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"Vu leurs têtes, ils sentent les ennuis à plein nez, ceux-là..."

I have two possibilities for this meaning. One is, "given how they look, they do look like a trouble". And another is, "given how they look, they seem to be sniffing out troubles".

Are they the troubles themselves? Or do they smell troubles caused by other people?

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    Given their look [or what they look like], they really smell like trouble. Or: Given their look, they can really smell out trouble. Those are the two readings; two readings as jlliagre mentions there can be below. Please note: trouble is always singular in this context: look like trouble, smell like trouble, spell trouble, etc. – Lambie Dec 26 '17 at 17:44
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The sentence is indeed ambiguous but in practice, the first meaning is more than likely the right one unless the context implies the second one.

Note that with the first person, the second meaning prevails:

Oh ! Je sens les ennuis à plein nez !

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This is a metaphorical idiomatic expression so it is not really ambiguous. It means "they may cause trouble".

  • The fact the expression is an idiomatic metaphor doesn't prevent it to be potentially ambiguous. – jlliagre Dec 26 '17 at 20:44
  • Yes, it is ambiguous. There are two possible readings, though the one that says these guys are trouble is more likely. – Lambie Dec 27 '17 at 2:17

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