Below is the quote from Boule de Suif:

Ses armes, ses uniformes, tout son attirail meurtrier, dont elle épouvantait naguère les bornes des routes nationales à trois lieues à la ronde, avaient subitement disparu.

Why is the "dont" used here instead of "avec lequel" if the author was intended to express "by the means of deadly weapon or apparatus"? Also, the object of "épouvantait" is quite strange to me. Scare the borders or boundaries of the roads? That doesn't make any sense to me. Or do I misinterpret the meaning here? Please explain it to me in English, many thanks!

1 Answer 1


La Garde nationale qui, depuis deux mois, faisait des reconnaissances très prudentes dans les bois voisins, fusillant parfois ses propres sentinelles, et se préparant au combat quand un petit lapin remuait sous des broussailles, était rentrée dans ses foyers. Ses armes, ses uniformes, tout son attirail meurtrier, dont elle épouvantait naguère les bornes des routes nationales à trois lieues à la ronde, avaient subitement disparu. (Guy de Maupassant, Boule de suif, 1880)

Dont can be used as a synonym of avec lequel when it stands for a thing and it introduces a defining relative clause expressing means.

T.L.F. (II. A. 3. b.)

b) [Compl. circ. de moyen, d'instrument; l'antécédent désigne un inanimé] Synon. par lequel, avec lequel. Son jeune disciple lui apporte la flûte dont il avoit coutume de jouer (Staël, Allemagne,t. 3, 1810, p. 135) Un rasoir dans la [main] droite dont il s'est coupé le cou (Mérimée, Lettres à M. Panizzi,1870, p. 135) Madame Gide a fait confectionner de grandes housses en forme, dont on couvre les bibliothèques du palier, le matin, pendant l'heure du ménage... Martin du Gard, Notes sur André Gide,1951, p. 1385.

In these example sentences found in the T.L.F dont stands for : avec laquelle (1st example), avec lequel (2nd example), avec lesquelles (3rd example). I do not know of a difference in register when one or the other is used.

In France the routes nationales is one of categories of roads that cross the country. Milestones (bornes) are placed on the side of these roads at regular intervals (usually every kilometre) with such indications as number of the road and distance to the next village or city. They're about 65 cm high, 40 cm wide (haven't measured one, just looked at catalogues, they give different dimensions around those lines), the top is dome-shaped and red. You can see one on the picture illustrating an article on the famous Nationale 7 (RN7) that goes from Paris to the Riviera.

The verb épouvanter is used in a metaphor in Maupassant's sentence. The gear was frightening to the people who saw it lying there on the milestones.

  • "Elle" here stands for "attirail"? But attirail is a masculine noun.
    – xiexie
    Commented Jul 15, 2017 at 15:33
  • Elle stands for La garde nationale. You must look at the previous sentence. Son attirail is the gear of the garde nationale.
    – None
    Commented Jul 15, 2017 at 15:57
  • @xiexie Boule de Suif takes place in the 1870-1871 Franco-Prussian War. For the garde nationale at that time and its role in the Franco-Prussian war, see this article in Wikipedia. The Garde Nationale is something different nowadays.
    – None
    Commented Jul 15, 2017 at 16:07
  • Good answer, but can dont always be used as a synonym of avec lequel when expressing the means of something? What makes this sentence sound unusual is that even in that use-case, you can normally understand dont as standing for a noun that would be introduced by de -- I wonder if there are other examples
    – qoba
    Commented Jul 15, 2017 at 16:18
  • @qoba I expect it could. I haven't got anything on the matter at hand. What I know is that dont can often replace a compound relative pronoun with [du/de la/des] quel(les) when the verb requires the preposition de. Always I wouldn't stake my life on it. La fille dont (de laquelle) je t'ai parlé. Dont is much more frequent and I know some will make a difference between the two.in some cases. See the BDQL for instance. I did not want to make a review in that question which was on a precise case (well, 2 actually...)
    – None
    Commented Jul 15, 2017 at 17:03

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.