Salut à tous !

I want to conjugate "s'y prendre" into the second person imperative form.

According to this grammar guide, "y" should go after all personal pronouns. Therefore, it should be "prends-toi-y" --> "prends t'y"

However, reverso seems to think that "prends-y-toi" is the correct form. Is it a mistake?

  • What is your context? For example: Il faut savoir comment s'y prendre. A typical usage. Il faut savoir comment t'y prendre. with the second person pronoun.
    – Lambie
    Aug 2 at 14:32
  • @Lambie I don't have a real context; I was teaching myself imperatives and this question just popped up in my head Aug 2 at 15:57
  • What exactly are you trying to say? [Also, please correct: Salut à tous.] :) Are you actually trying to say "Take it"?
    – Lambie
    Aug 2 at 16:02
  • @Lambie I was learning French imperatives on Lawless French, and, upon learning the rule of order of pronouns, I was like, "so how do we form imperatives with y, as in s'y prendre?" So I went ahead and posted this thread. There is no real context in which I'm trying to use the expression Aug 2 at 16:07
  • Thanks for explaining that. So, here is the problem: s'y prendre means: to go about something. As in: Je ne sais pas (comment) m'y prendre. I don't know how to go about this/that/it. As you can see, s'y prendre would not be used in the imperative. Follow me? :) I can't "order" you to go about something.
    – Lambie
    Aug 2 at 16:10

Object pronoun ordering in imperatives has been a longstanding issue and is a lot less fixed than textbook grammars describe.

The prescribed standard is similar to the one described in the question's first link: V - le/la/les - me/te/lui/nous/vous/leur - en/y, with -me and -te shifting to forms similar to their stressed outcome (-moi, -toi) when they occur last.

This would output "prends-t'y", which is indeed prescriptively standard. But there's several problems with that:

  • There's a lot of variation in usage even without involving y and en, some of it dialectal, and you'll encounter forms like "donne-me-le", "donne-moi-le" or "donne-le-me", even in literature (exemples taken from Le Bon Usage: "Rends-nous-les" (Hugo), "montrez-moi-la" (Proust), Di(te)s-nous-le (Hériat, Monterlant), Tenez-vous-le pour dit (Nerval, Renard, Gide, Mauriac, Cocteau)).
  • In the standard, several pronouns change forms depending on their neighbouring context: -me and -te alternate with -moi and -toi depending on whether they're the last element in the clitic chain, -le has a stable vowel (/lœ/, /lø/, /lɛ/ depending on the dialectal variant), i.e. "donne-le aussi" is pronounced /dɔnlœosi/, not */dɔnlosi/, which is what you'd expect if it was an unstable /ə/, but before y and en, this vowel elides as if it was /ə/ (amène-l'y) and finally y and en are often preceded by /z/ through liaison, which has prompted the generalisation of this liaison consonant to contexts in which there shouldn't be one (va là-bas -> vas-y, which should in all logic be spelled "va-z-y")
  • The rule saying that te and me + y or en give m'en/t'en/t'y/m'y is a generalisation of a phenomenon that could in the classical period mostly be observed with en only and with a limited set of verbs, most famously s'en aller (i.e. va-t'en). This generalisation never took: people find forms like achète-m'en or amène-m'y awkward, if not fully ungrammatical.

To fix the second problem, speakers have generalised one form in all contexts: the alternation between me and moi is abandoned and moi used everywhere (see the "donne-moi-le mentioned above) except in some regions where me is used instead ("donne-le-me"); le never loses its vowel (donne-le-z-y); and the z-liaison forms of en and y are generalised to every context (donne-leur-en -> donne-leur-z-en).

This is going to be extremely frequent, of course, with the very awkward moi+y/en and toi+y/en combinations, where sequences like "donne-moi-z-en" are regularly used instead of the prescribed but abnormal sounding "donne-m'en".

For "s'y prendre", this means "prends-toi-z-y", which is how I'd probably spontaneously form it.

But those forms are subject to some normative pressure, so some speakers take advantage of the variability in enclitic pronoun ordering (problem 1 above) to shift -moi and -z-y: Prends-y-toi. This allows them to use the regularised forms /mwa/ and /zi/ in places where they're prescriptively licit (after a verb where you'd expect the z-liaison for -z-y and in the final slot of the pronoun chain for -moi). And indeed, like in reverso link, you'll sometimes encounter speakers confidently stating that such forms are prescriptively licit, which they are not.

  • Bref, people will generally avoid the imperative form of "s'y prendre" (except negative : "(ne) t'y prends pas comme ça" is ok) knowing it's quasi-impossible to build a fluid sentence with it, or else say it as a joke.
    – XouDo
    Aug 2 at 14:33
  • I gave the example above: [Il faut] savoir comment s'y prendre. Which can be: t'y prendre. Tu ne sais pas comment t'y prendre.
    – Lambie
    Aug 2 at 14:37
  • 1
    Thanks so much for this detailed answer. C'est tout à fait époustouflant. Aug 2 at 16:11
  • 1
    @Lambie They're asking about enclitic pronoun ordering with imperative, proclitic pronouns with an infinitive is fairly irrelevant Aug 2 at 16:31
  • @XouDo It's not that people avoid the imperative, it's that the imperative for s'y prendre is meaningless; in French and in the English translation.
    – Lambie
    Aug 2 at 16:43

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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