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I ran across a phrase which confused me a little:

J'entends quelqu'un venir du hall d'entrée.

How come that after quelqu'un goes the indefinite form of the verb venir? I would expect it to be instead:

J'entends quelqu'un vient du hall d'entrée.

Could you please explain this?

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    @None, Thanks, I mentioned it only because its presence might discourage others from posting a real answer (e.g. they feel they'd be plagiarizing or stealing it). Yes I know that using comments to build an answer is okay, but even so it still has an effect. Dec 20, 2021 at 20:46
  • By the way, a similar pattern is possible in English, although for most verbs the forms are so similar that you might not notice it. "I've never heard anyone be that rude before" (rather than "I've never heard anyone is that rude before"), "I saw someone try to climb that tree yesterday", "We will never again see a human walk on the moon", etc. Dec 21, 2021 at 21:50
  • @JamesMartin To a non native English speaker the comparison with English is not relevant since in the case of OP's sentence in English you could have either the V form or Ving form. (Only your 2nd sentence is of he same pattern as OP's sentence).
    – None
    Dec 22, 2021 at 6:12

3 Answers 3

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In the sentence:

  • J'entends quelqu'un venir du hall d'entrée.

Quelqu'un is the direct object of entendre and it is not the subject of venir. It means that venir has no subject. You could also write the sentence this way:

  • J'entends venir quelqu'un du hall d'entrée.

The rule is that when a verb follows another verb then this second verb is in the infinitive1. In order to conjugate venir we need to give it a subject. We could write:

  • J'entends quelqu'un qui vient du hall d'entrée.

and then qui would be the subject and we would conjugate venir.

This does not mean that quelqu'un cannot be the subject of a verb. For example we could have this sentence:

  • Quelqu'un vient, je l'entends.

1 Except when the 1st verb is être or avoir, but then they act as auxiliaries.

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    Another variant that would also work: "J'entends que quelqu'un vient du hall d'entrée."
    – Bruno
    Dec 21, 2021 at 10:25
  • @Bruno Transforming an independent clause into a subordinate clause doesn't make it a variant, quelqu'un vient is the subject of the verb in both cases. The question was not about sentence construction, in which case, yes, your sentence would have been a variant.
    – None
    Dec 22, 2021 at 11:32
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FWIW, English uses very similar grammar, with observed actions in the infinitive form:

I heard¹ someone come in from the hallway.

and not in the indicative:

** I heard someone comes in from the hallway.

** I heard someone came in from the hallway.

Note that the sentences marked with ** above are technically also grammatical English, but they're examples of a different construction, essentially with an elided "that" after the verb "heard".

It's easy to tell them apart in this case because the implied meanings are different: in the first example above — just as in your French example sentence — you're saying you directly heard the noise someone made as they came in, while in the two examples marked with ** you're reporting hearsay about something someone reportedly does or did.


1) The English example works with both "hear" and "heard", i.e. both in present and past tense, but — at least to my ear — sounds more natural in the past tense. I suspect this is because English also allows a similar construction using the present participle for the perceived action, as in "I hear/heard someone coming", and in most contexts the combination of a present tense verb for the act of observation (typically implying that you're still hearing them) with an infinitive for the observed action (implying that it has concluded) sounds less natural that the other alternatives. It would be natural in a narrative that was entirely in the present tense, though, as in: "I sit down to wait. Ten minutes later, I hear someone come in from the hallway."

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  • This is a question about the French Language and not the place to explain English grammar.
    – None
    Dec 22, 2021 at 11:26
  • @None: I tried to keep my explanation of English grammar to the minimum needed to illustrate the parallelism with French (and why it isn't perfect). That said, I could probably trim it down further yet. Dec 22, 2021 at 12:18
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It is normal, in French sentence, if the first verb is conjugated, then, the second is not.

For exemple :

J'ai entendu courir au bout du couloir.

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  • This doesn't answer OP's question that is asking why "after quelqu'un goes the indefinite form of the verb venir?"
    – None
    Dec 22, 2021 at 5:53

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