The following are (non-auto-generated) subtitles of a documentary show about people with mental or physical disabilities having difficulties finding employers who are willing to hire them:

Laurent habite seul dans un appartement du quartier Rosemont, à Montréal. Fier de son autonomie, il se déplace où bon lui semble en roulant, et ce, peu importe l'état de la chaussée.

DeepL translates this to:

Laurent lives alone in an apartment in the Rosemont district of Montreal. Proud of his autonomy, he gets around wherever he wants to go by car, regardless of the road conditions.

Question One:

Out of curiosity, I checked WordReference's page for "sembler", and all of the entries were related to the typical definition you would expect ("to seem"). If I were to try to translate "il se déplace où bon lui semble" using this definition, I would produce someting like: "He moves himself where such location very well seems to him". This seems so far away from "where he wants to go" that I doubt "where he wants to go" comes from "sembler" meaning of "to seem".

I then went to the TLFi page for "sembler", and skimmed the entire page looking for something meaning "to want", but I couldn't find it. Can you point out where in the TFLi page for "sembler", that would help me understand that "où bon lui sembler" means "wherever he wants to go"?

Question Two:

I found it surprising that "où" was used as a subject (ie, taking "semble" as its verb). A more typical use of "où" that I'm familiar with, is where "où" is an object:

  • Voilà l'école où je suis allé.

I tried thinking of a sentence in English where the word "where" is a subject, but none of them sound natural. For example, "There's the school where ruined my life" doesn't make sense, but instead "There's the school that ruined my life" does make sense; and DeepL translates this with "qui" instead of "où": "Il y a l'école qui a ruiné ma vie.".

I'm unfamiliar with "où" being used as a subject. Can you give other example sentences, other than "où bon lui semble", where "où" is used as a subject?

  • 3
    Consider it's a phrase. I find the wiktionary usually quite good. fr.wiktionary.org/wiki/comme_bon_lui_semble
    – None
    Sep 1 at 10:39
  • This is at least the second time that you showed me that Wiktionary gave real answers. I'll eventually learn to check it when I come across something that might be an expression / idiom / phrase! Also, thanks for pointing out where the info is in the TLF. So, if I understand you correctly, it's unusual for où to be used as a subject, outside of expressions like this one?
    – silph
    Sep 1 at 10:51
  • looked like a subject to me in "où bon lui semble", because "qui" is a subject in "qui lui semble". that is, i was trying to parse "lui semble" in a way that would grammatically make sense in "il se déplace où bon lui semble", and the best i could come up with was that "où lui semble" must be a clause.
    – silph
    Sep 1 at 11:06
  • (maybe i'm using the word "subject" incorrectly? i always skipped the chapters on relative pronouns in the grammar books i'm reading!)
    – silph
    Sep 1 at 11:07
  • 1
    “He moves himself where such location very well seems to him” is of course directly translated to the point of being quite meaningless in English, but a slightly more idiomatic, but still direct, translation makes sense in English too: “He moves/gets around where [it] seems good to him”. That’s quite close, semantically, to ‘wherever he wants to go’, even if the grammatical structure is different. The primary difference between the French and the English is that English requires a dummy subject, where French does without it in this instance. Sep 1 at 17:51

"Où bon < pronom coi > semble" is an idiom. It is also found in a form where the pronoun is replaced by a noun preceded by "à", but it is rather rarely used nowadays.

  • (ref. 1958) […] libéralisme restreint par l'obligation de prendre ses blés où bon semble à l'O.N.I.C.

(TLFi) Si/comme/qui/que... bon (me, te...) semble. Si/comme... (quelqu'un) le désire.

The pronouns found in this expression: "me, te, lui, nous, vous, leur".

What follows is an analysable equivalent.

  • où il semble que c'est bon à < quelqu'un > (as "quelqu'un" becomes a "coi" pronoun in the original expression, it is placed before "semble" (according to the rule) and "à" disappears.)

  • où il < me, te, lui, nous, vous, leur > semble que c'est bon

In conclusion, let's say that "He moves himself where such location very well seems to him", if not good English, still captures the mind of the source language; although the TLFi carries the definition "où < je, tu, il, elle, nous vous, ils > le désire", the definition "où < je, tu, il, elle, nous vous, ils > crois (croit, croyons, etc.) que ça convient (que c'est bon, que ça semble bon, etc.)", is not wrong, and is perhaps, I think, even more accurate.

  • Voilà l'école où je suis allé.

You have to brush up on your French grammar; your assertion that "où" is an object in this particular sentence is rather absurd in the light of your general understanding. "Où" is never a subject, and can mostly be a "complément circonstanciel de lieu" ("adverbial of place" in English).

Projet Voltaire

Où est adverbe de lieu, devenu, par glissement pronom relatif, avec le sens de lequel , laquelle , précédés des prépositions de, par, dans, chez, pour, vers, etc. quand il est précédé d’un antécédent. Il se dit des des êtres inanimés

Voici la maison où (dans laquelle) je suis né.

Où est essentiellement complément circonstanciel de lieu

Puis nous irons ensemble où l’honneur nous appelle.

Mais il peut être aussi complément circonstanciel de temps

C’était l’heure tranquille où les lion vont boire .

Lorsque où sert

─ À interroger sur le lieu où l’on est soit dans une interrogation directe: Où es-tu ? Soit dans une interrogation indirecte : Je ne sais où cela se trouve.
─ À interroger sur le lieu où l’on va soit dans une interrogation directe: Où court-il si vite ? Soit dans une interrogation indirecte : Je me demande où il veut en venir.

Il est adverbe de lieu interrogatif. Il est complément circonstanciel de lieu.




  • i was thinking that, in "voilà l'école où je suis allé", that the où is a mandatory complement. (i have the bad habit of sometimes calling complements "objects", even when they are adverbials). that is, "je suis allé" is incomplete, but "je suis allé à l'école" is complete, and that replaces "à l'école".
    – silph
    Sep 1 at 13:15
  • @silph I see, a misconception then… "Où" does stand for "école", since it is a relative pronoun, and as such it has to have an antecedent. However, there is one more clue, and that is that "aller" can't have an object.
    – LPH
    Sep 1 at 13:21

Bon (me, te, lui, etc...) semble must be seen as set phrase where sembler is used as an impersonal verb. This phrase can be modified by an adverb (comme, où, si...). I would say the whole can be considered as an adverbial phrase, no subject to be found here. As an adverbial phrase it modifies the verb déplacer in your sentence.

A few examples:

  • J'irai où bon me semble. (wherever I like/ I want to/please)
  • Il fait comme bon lui semble. (as he sees fit/as he pleases)
  • Nous irons si bon nous semble. (if we want to)
  • Tu feras ce que bon te semble. (whatever you see fit, want to) etc.

can be an adverb or a relative pronoun, even as a relative pronoun it cannot be a subject. In your sentence voilà l'école où je suis allé, is a relative pronoun but it is not an object (it can't be if you ask "where")

Here's a general lesson on relative pronouns beginner level. And on this page you'll additional information on how to use (and dont). Both pages look good to me.

You could have found the information in the TLF under: B 1 b α) (− Si/comme/qui/que... bon (me, te...) semble. Si/comme... (quelqu'un) le désire...). But the TLF is not meant for people who study French as a foreign language unless they have already reached a very good grasp o the language (e.g. able to tackle French literature). The wiktionnaire (French version of the wiktionary) is a much better tool, because of a better layout, but chiefly, and although their original content came from the TLF, it is regularly updated (the TLF is a finished work, it will never be updated). For example in this case it gives you comme bon lui semble. And even the wiktionary has got bon lui semble.

  • as a beginner language learner, it's always very helpful when i'm given additional example sentences. somehow example sentences give the "practice" that my brain uses to feel more comfortable with the unfamiliar phrase / word / grammar. so thanks for the example sentences.
    – silph
    Sep 1 at 13:32

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