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, 2021 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, 2021 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, 2021 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, 2021 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, 2021 at 16:10

1 Answer 1


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, 2021 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, 2021 at 14:37
  • 1
    Thanks so much for this detailed answer. C'est tout à fait époustouflant. Aug 2, 2021 at 16:11
  • 1
    @Lambie They're asking about enclitic pronoun ordering with imperative, proclitic pronouns with an infinitive is fairly irrelevant Aug 2, 2021 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, 2021 at 16:43

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