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When looking up reviews for a book I'm currently reading; there happened to ba review in French; the bolded sentence confused me:

Ce bouquin m'a tapé dans l’œil dès que je l'ai vu apparaître dans les futures parutions sur Goodreads

Here are some English sentences that are similar to the confusing bolded sentence, along with their translations (created by Google Translate) :

I watch you eating. Je te regarde manger.
I hear you sing. Je vous entends chanter.


These sentences confuse me because they seem to be different than the patterns that I've been exposed to in French. Here are some of these patterns:

Pattern 1)
"Mini-sentences (ie, subject + verb) are "glued on" using "que + mini-sentence"; and this "mini-sentence" construction is required when a different construction can be used in English.

Example:
The English "Do you want me to speak French?" uses a construction that can't be used in French. Instead, you must say "Do you want that I speak French?" ("Est-ce que tu veux que je parle le français?")

In this way, I would have thought that "I watch you sing" would be "Je regarde que tu chantes", just as "I want you to sing" is "Je veux que tu chantes".

Pattern 2)
Here are some typical examples of sentences with "[conjugated verb] + [infinitive]" :

I love to sing. (or, "I like singing") J'adore chanter.

I want to dance. (or, "I like dancing") Je veux dancer.

These sentences somehow feel very different than:

I watch you eating. Je te regarde manger.
I hear you sing. Je vous entends chanter.

If I try to simplify "Je le vois apparaître" by taking out the direct object pronoun "le", it becomes "Je vois apparaître", but what the heck does that even mean ("I see appearing" or "I see appear"??!).


So, this is a grammatical construction that I don't understand, and I'm not sure how my brain should be reading it.

When a English speaker sees "I watch you eating", most likely our brains parse this as "I watch [some "noun"] "; here, the "noun" is "you eating". ("I watch [television]". "I watch [you eating]").

(Furthermore, I notice that "[you eating]" is a noun-like unit that my brain packages together, and this unit is made by [subject (you) + verb (eating) ]. This [subject + verb] is not present in the French "Je te regarde manger", which uses the (direct? indirect? not sure..) object pronoun "te", instead of a subject).

I want to know how French speakers' brains think of "Je te regarde manger". Is it that you think "Je regarde manger" ("I watch eating"), and then your brains add in the meaning of the direct object ("you")? Or instead, do you think "Je te regarde", and then add in the idea of "manger" ("I watch you" + eating)?


Questions:
1. Why is it "Je veux que tu manges" but "Je te regarde manger"? What are the grammatical ideas that could help me understand the difference?

  1. In "Je l'ai vu apparaître", is the direct object pronoun " l' " an object for the verb "vu", or instead for the verb "apparaître"?

  2. Do French speaker's brains hear Je te regarde manger as "I watch eating, [.. plus the idea of "you"]", or do their brains instead hear "I watch you, [.. plus the idea of "eating"]"?

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Pattern 1 and pattern 2 are different. Let's start with pattern 2 which is simpler.

Here the basic construction is a clause which is used as a component of another sentence. For example:

Je veux que tu chantes.

To turn the full sentence « tu chantes » (“you sing”/“you are singing”) into a subordinate clause, add the conjunction que: « que tu chantes ». This subordinate clause can be used as the direct complement of « je veux ». So far it's straightforward.

There is a special case when the subject of the subordinate clause is the same as the subject of the main clause. In this case, we don't say *« je veux que je chante ». Instead, we drop the repeated subject, we drop the conjunction, and we conjugate the verb in the infinitive mood: « Je veux chanter. »

Switching to the infinitive when the subjects are the same is not optional. For example, there is a clear difference in meaning between the following two sentences:

Il veut chanter.   [the person who wants is the person who sings] (He wants to sing.)
Il veut qu'il chante.   [the person who wants is different from the person who sings] (He wants him to sing.)

Pattern 2 is modeled on the special same-subject case of pattern 1, but this time it's more of a double-object. In pattern 2, you are describing a perception. When the perception is neutral, you can use a simple subordinate clause.

Je vois qu'il mange.   (I see that he's eating.)

If you want to focus the perception on the subject of the action, it's natural to make the subject of the action the direct complement of the verb.

Je le regarde.   (I'm watching him.)

This doesn't leave room for the action, however. You can express it with an adverbial clause:

Je le regarde pendant qu'il mange.   (I'm watching him while he eats.)

But this doesn't express a focus on observing the specific action. It's possible to tie the observation, the subject of the action and the action that is observed together by making both the subject and the action direct complements of the perception verb. In this case, since the clause containing the action doesn't have a subject, its verb must be in a mood that doesn't require a subject. We use the infinitive when the subject of the action is the object of the observation.

Je le regarde manger.   (I'm watching him eat, i.e. I'm watching him while he's eating.)

I want to know how French speakers' brains think of "Je te regarde manger". Is it that you think "Je regarde manger" ("I watch eating"), and then your brains add in the meaning of the direct object ("you")? Or instead, do you think "Je te regarde", and then add in the idea of "manger" ("I watch you" + eating)?

I don't think of it as “Je te regarde” + “manger” nor as *“Je regarde manger” + “te”, but as “Je regarde” + “tu manges”.

  • Thanks for addressing not only my previously held ideas (i.e. the two patterns), but also carefully constructing, step-by-step, this construction that had me confused. The paragraph starting with "But this doesn't express..." was particularly illuminating. Request for clarification: could you elaborate on what you mean by "When the perception is neutral"? Could I translate "I watch him eating" as "Je regarde qu'il mange" if I'm watching him in a "neutral" way? And could I translate "I see him eating" as "Je le vois manger" if I want to emphasize his eating in a less "neutral" way? – silph Jan 4 at 10:13

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