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In a sentence such as: "je fis comme mon père me l'avait dit".

Who does the " l' " refer to (which word is it replacing)?

Furthermore, how should this be accounted for in the translation? It seems to me that the correct translation would be "I did as my father had told me", but this doesn't account for the l'.

  • The I' doesn't refer to a person, it refers to something. Your question should read "What does the "i'" refer to? – Laure Oct 25 '16 at 7:08
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Here, the sentence has the meaning of:

Je fis comme mon père m'avait dit de faire.

I did as my father had told me to do.

And implicitly, "l'" stands for that.

It could be translated by:

I did as my father had told me.

Don't worry for the "l'", English doesn't need it to have the same meaning. The tenses used in French indicate that the moment my father told me is past relatively to the moment I did, that's why I used plu-perfect "had told" (not sure if it is the actual name for this tense in English)

Note that

Je fis comme mon père m'avait dit.

can be heard in French, even if it sounds bad for conservative linguists.

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    conservative linguists?? the L stands for: to do it. I did as my father told me to do it. Which, of course, sounds terrible in both languages. Last time I checked, the passé simple is passé, and I wonder where one might even see such a sentence. The passé simple is used for narration in literature. – Lambie Oct 24 '16 at 14:42
  • You seem to have much to say, why don't you write your own answer instead of writing it in a comment ? I edited something about the tenses, does it go in the way you are talking about ? – Anne Aunyme Oct 24 '16 at 14:55
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    I was mostly wondering about why you say: Je fis can be "heard" in French. Who uses the passé simple in speaking? No one does. I think the OP doesn't realize that I did is J'ai fait comme mon père etc. – Lambie Oct 24 '16 at 15:31
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    I actually encountered it originally in a French text ("La Force de la Passion" by Romain Gary), though the original line references the mother instead of the father. The reason for the question is that I was asked in an assignment who does the l' replace. – Thredolsen Oct 24 '16 at 16:14
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    @Thredolsen You mean a French language teacher asked their students "Who does the l' refer to? That's a very misleading question to ask students, making them believe it could refer to someone. Your answer should consist quoting the father's words where he tells his son what to do. – Laure Oct 25 '16 at 7:10
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"Le" is a pronoun, it means "it" (accusative).

There is an equivalent in English, but it is easier to see it in a simpler construction:

Je te l'avais dit.

I had told you so.

Arguably, "so" is an adverb, but in that case it used as a pronoun (and American Heritage Dictionary considers it as a pronoun).

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