The following sentence appears in an opinion editorial online:

Dès les premiers balbutiements du débat sur les « accommodements raisonnables », on voyait poindre ce qui allait venir.

DeepL's translation is:

From the very beginning of the debate on "reasonable accommodation", we could see what was to come.

I was curious what the verb "poindre" meant:

  • WordReference said that it meant "to start to show" or "to come up".
  • This French.SE answer says that, in the infinitive form, "poindre" is a synonym for "apparaître". WordReference's entries for "apparaître" mean roughly "to come into existence" or "to appear".

With this in mind, if I were to translate "On voyait poindre ce qui allait venir" somewhat literally, I would first undo the inversion (I assume there is an inversion, because WordReference says that both poindre and apparaître are intransitive):

  • "On voyait ce qui allait venir poindre."

and then translate it to be: "We were seeing what was-going-to just-finished to-show-up", or maybe "We were seeing what was going to come to-show-up".

But I feel unsure of myself:

  • it seems to me that "allait venir" ("what was going to come") already is very similar to the meaning of "poindre" ("to start to show")
  • if "poindre"'s definition itself ("to start to show") already has the idea, inside of the definition, of "starting to do something", then is the auxillary verb "venir" (indicating that something just finished happening) really necessary?


  1. How would you translate "On voyait ce qui allait venir poindre"?

  2. Is there a difference in meaning between these sentences (and indeed, are all of these sentences correct grammatically) ?

    a. On voyait ce qui allait venir poindre.
    b. On voyait ce qui allait venir.
    c. On voyait ce qui allait poindre.
    d. On voyait ce qui venait poindre.

  3. I feel very unsure about how to understand the words "allait" and "venir", in "ce qui allait venir poindre". I'm guessing that both of them are auxillary verbs, but seeing a) them used together, and b) in the imparfait, confuses me:

    • "Aller" is known as being used to make the "nearby future" ("future prôche"); what does it mean for "aller" to be in the imparfait, and to be followed by venir?
    • My best guess is: "With relation of the frame of reference of something unfolding in the past, in the nearby future from that point, something was about to finish happening: namely, "poindre"-ing ("something starting to show up) was about to finish happening" ... which is very confusing to me.

    Can you explain this use of "allait venir + infinitive"?

1 Answer 1


(TLFi) 2. P. ext., littér. [Le suj. désigne le plus souvent un astre ou le jour naissant] Commencer à apparaître
♦. Au-dessus des branches, les hauteurs du ciel étaient pâles, et des étoiles commençaient à poindre. (R. Bazin, Blé, 1907, p.25)
♦ Le jour sans doute a commencé de poindre. (Pourrat, Gaspard, 1931, p.296)

This verb is largely defective (ref.) since it exists only in the third person singular.

  • "On voyait ce qui allait venir poindre."

This is not correct. First, there is no inversion in "on voyait poindre ce qui allait venir". Then, literally, this would be as follows.

  • on voyait commencer à apparaitre ce qui allait venir

Then, in figurative and therefore more expressive language the following is an option.

  • on voyait se dessiner ce qui allait venir

In English this would have several interesting renderings, of which the following is one.

  • it was beginning to dawn on us what was coming

a. On voyait ce qui allait venir poindre. (not equivalent, incorrect too, discard)
b. On voyait ce qui allait venir. (correct French, but not equivalent)
c. On voyait ce qui allait poindre. (correct French, but not equivalent, and, moreover, the contexts for this sort of formulation must be very rare)
d. On voyait ce qui venait poindre. (not correct French)


In this construction the verb "aller" is a modal: it is used to express the near future. This particular case is that of "futur proche dans le passé".

  • Marcel n’avait pas compris que nous allions rentrer à pied.

  • Nous allions partir en vacances lorsque notre voiture est tombée en panne, et cela a gâché la moitié de notre mois de congé. (user LPH)

  • (I'm working through your post a little at a time). One thing I noticed was that both poindre and apparaître in WordReference are listed as intransitive verbs. Could you give an English translation for "on voyait commencer à apparaitre ce qui allait venir", to help me understand what "Apparaitre qqch" means?
    – silph
    Commented Aug 30, 2021 at 7:29
  • @silph Do not confuse "apparaitre" and "voir apparaitre", two verbal locutions with different "régimes"; the first is intransitive but not the second one: that one is transitive. One possible translation is "We were beginning to make out what was coming", another is "we were beginning to see what was coming", and yet another could be "we could see in the offing what was coming" or "we could see the first inklings of what was coming".
    – LPH
    Commented Aug 30, 2021 at 7:42
  • so, "Voir proindre" is also a locution that is transitive, then?
    – silph
    Commented Aug 30, 2021 at 7:54
  • 1
    @silph References for this type of verbal forms are hard to find, and I can't indicate any to you. However, I can do what from some point of view is better, and that is show you how to determine if a verbal form is transitive or intransitive, in particular, intransitive. Make a research for that form in Google Books (books.google.com/ngrams/…) then examine the examples that are provided (google.com/…). (1/2)
    – LPH
    Commented Aug 30, 2021 at 9:03
  • 1
    @silph Be careful about typos. You wrote three times voir proindre instead of voir poindre. There are three occurrences of voir poindre in the TLFi: voir, couche-tôt, méfiant
    – jlliagre
    Commented Aug 30, 2021 at 11:57

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