J'aime bien cet enfant; il dit, du moins, ce qu'il pense. Mais il est d'autres gens qui n'ont point tenu leurs promesses; il est de vieux enfants qui n'ont pas fait leur devoir.

This text is from "Patachou" by Tristan Derém.

*The meaning is as below?

I love this boy. But he speaks what he has in mind. And it is others who have not kept their promises and it is old boys who do not carry out thei duty.

*What is " vieux enfants "? Are they adult men?

I am glad if someone kindly teach me.

  • «vieux enfants» ("old children") is an oxymoron.
    – user11110
    Sep 8, 2016 at 2:36
  • Quite common: «ce sont restés de grands enfants» ("they haven't grown up").
    – user11110
    Sep 8, 2016 at 2:58
  • "J'aime bien" is more "I like" than "I love". And "du moins" doesn't mean "but" but "at least".
    – Destal
    Sep 8, 2016 at 8:22
  • "Vieux enfants" refers to adults, but not necessarily men. (masculine is used for mixed groups) Oct 6, 2016 at 15:43

2 Answers 2


Il est should be translated as there are. It's a literary usage for il y a.

Here, vieux enfants just means adults. Since he was just talking about a child, the author is following it up by metaphorically referring to the adults he's comparing him to as aged-up children.

In essence, he's saying there are adults who never followed up on their childhood "promises" (possibly he's really meaning childhood dreams, but there's not enough context to tell).


Vieux enfants means grown-up people in an oxymoronic way, as rightly stated Erwann in a comment. Du moins means "at least", not "but".

There is also a second play of words between qui n'ont pas fait leur devoir (who didn't do their duty) and the more common expression when talking about children qui n'ont pas fait leurs devoirs (who didn't do their homework.)

Note that j'aime bien is lighter than j'aime, similar to "I like" vs "I love".

He is an attempt to translate this text:

I like this child. At least (s)he speaks his/her mind. Some other ones didn't keep their promises, there are grown-up people who didn't do their duty.

  • 1
    I like the 2nd play on words & especially your mentioning it. In light of the use of the plural in the preceding clause (qui n'ONT point tenu leurS promesseS), would the word play be diluted for being too obvious (or even too ambiguous), if “leur” &/or “devoir” had been pluralized (as perhaps one would expect when discussing the individual duties of each member of the group)? Besides the word play's presence, could the singular be explained by “devoir” having an uncountable sense or by the group as a whole having 1 main duty (or each member having the same individual duty)? Thanks!
    – Papa Poule
    Sep 8, 2016 at 18:08

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