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Le fragment de comète brisé s'est écrasé en pleine mer.

Le fragment de comète brisée s'est écrasé en pleine mer.

I wonder if I should have the adjective « brisé {broken} » qualify the masculine noun « fragment » or the feminine noun « comète », logically thinking.

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    I would reject both sentences. An idiomatic one would be Le fragment de comète s'est abîmé en pleine mer. As there is a fragment, we already know the comet was more or less broken in parts so brisé(e) is redundant. – jlliagre Jun 27 '17 at 0:45
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    Le fragment étant déjà une partie brisée de la comète je ne vois pas comment appliquer l'adjectif brisé à autre chose que la comète. Mais je ne suis pas aussi catégorique que @jlliagre pour éliminer la deuxième phrase. – Laure SO - Écoute-nous Jun 27 '17 at 6:32
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    Je ressens que pour ajouter "brisée" il faut mettre l'article défini : "le fragment de la comète brisée". Sans l'article ça sonne surchargé. – Destal Jun 27 '17 at 7:46
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A “fragment” is a piece of something that was broken or split. Thus “fragment” implies “brisé”. You could just write “Le fragment de la comète s'est écrasé en pleine mer”.

However, it is pretty common to reinforce an idea with a pleonasm, so your sentence is still valid. Now, as to which to prefer… I actually believe both to be correct, just placing a subtle emphasis either:

  • For the first one, on the fact that the fragment that plummets into the sea is the result of a breaking. I would translate that to “the piece that broke away from the comet”. Focus is on the fragment.
  • For the second one, on the fact that the comet has be broken, and this is just one piece of it. I would translate that to “the piece of the broken comet”. Focus is on the comet.

First sentence would be read the wrong way by less attentive readers, so you might want to reword it like this: “Le fragment brisé de la comète s'est écrasé en pleine mer”. It also makes the pleonasm stronger as the two words are together.

  • Note that "broken away" (like "broken off") is phrasal verbs that doesn't really correspond to "break apart/briser" (compared to e.g. séparer, détacher), so I don't think we can get "broken/brisé" in for the fragment unless, as Laure and Jonathan write, the fragment is itself internally breaking apart. On the contrary, I'm tempted to read that it's a whole fragment of a broken comet. :) – Luke Sawczak Jun 27 '17 at 12:30
  • @LukeSawczak> You can find similar examples in litterature, for instance “les fragments brisés de la carcasse d’un soldat” — Mémoires d'Outre-Tombe, Chateaubriand, or “les vers que j’ai publiés ne sont que des ébauches mutilées, des fragments brisés de ce poëme de mon âme” — Des Destinées, Lamartine. – spectras Jun 27 '17 at 12:53
  • Hmm, okay. (Still not sure about a single fragment brisé, but I'd buy it based on that, especially the indefinite second one which couldn't be synecdoche.) – Luke Sawczak Jun 27 '17 at 12:57
  • 'fragment brisé' is not a pleonasm! the conflict is between 'brisé' with the verb 's'écraser'. I also edited my answer accordingly. – Jonathan Jun 27 '17 at 15:00
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    No uppercase "C" here. Comète is very unlikely to be used as a proper noun in French just like we do not say Voyage vers Planète Mars. We say la comète SL9 or la planète Mars. The lack of article in le fragment de comète means it is a fragment from some unspecified comet, not a known comet which would lead to le fragment de la comète. – jlliagre Jun 27 '17 at 23:28
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The bigger mistake in this sentence is the improper use of the article. We would say either:

un fragment de comète brisé s'est écrasé en pleine mer.

Le/un fragment de la comète brisée s'est écrasé en pleine mer.

Le/un fragment d’une comète brisée s'est écrasé en pleine mer.

Let’s note the ‘fragment brisé’ is quite confusing, because it can not 's'écraser' as it is already crushed. this is why I propose another example :

un morceau de saucisse séché ne tente personne.

Le/un morceau de la saucisse séchée ne tente personne

The article helps to determine if you consider the partition with ‘un morceau de’ or the main object with ‘de la’

This apply to all partitions: 'un fragment de’ ‘un peu de’ 'un morceau de’, …

Additional, I took this example because this is also correct:

un morceau de saucisse sèche ne tente personne.

un morceau de saucisse sec ne tente personne

But it is because 'saucisse sèche' is also a generic name :)

Edit: opinion over ‘fragment brisé’ conflict with 's'écraser'

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Depends I guess on whether it's to the fragment or the comet that you want to attribute the sense or "broken".

Here is where I got my answer for this:

http://la-conjugaison.nouvelobs.com/regles/orthographe/l-accord-du-participe-passe-employe-sans-auxiliaire-177.php

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