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I came across this passage in Boris Vian's 'Les Fourmis' (1949):

Il paraît que ça commence à sentir la fin. Je ne sais pas à quoi ils voient ça, mais je voudrais tâcher de m'en sortir le plus commodément possible.

I don't recognise the use of the words 'à quoi' in the second sentence and can't find it as a phrase in the dictionary.

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  • This is like: à quoi c'est dû? That is due to what ? à quoi refers to the means for or of something. Due to what are they seeing that? Though I'd use "I don't know how they're seeing that". A quoi tu vois ça? What makes you see it that way.
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 23, 2022 at 18:08
  • @Earendelle Pour expliquer des structures, les comparaisons sont fréquentes. Et puis, complément en anglais c'est object, pas "complement".
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 23, 2022 at 19:39
  • @Lambie My point is it's not as typical for voir to have two objects to mean what we have here. I don't find it run of the mill like your comment seemingly implies. Thanks btw for complement. Commented Apr 23, 2022 at 20:38
  • @Earendelle I did not say it was run of the mill at all. I tried to show how it might work in terms of English.
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 23, 2022 at 23:09

2 Answers 2

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À quoi represents the signs that lead them to see/believe the end was close.

The meaning is something like: "I don't know what makes them think that."

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The meaning has been established in another answer. I believe the meaning is more about perception than sight indeed, as in finding something or coming to a conclusion about something and this would match a specific construction for the verb voir (2e, I. C.): Voir quelquechose à quelquechose where you have a second object (indirect) introduced with the prepostion à and it feels to me a bit like "from". They're finding it's the beginning of the end from what i.e. the first something is the conclusion from the preceding sentence in the text and the second one is literally not known. I think in this very instance the second object is made up of the preposition à with an interrogation word (quoi) and is anteposed. It is only loosely connected with "je ne sais pas" whereas the whole "à quoi ils voient ça" is the object for that.

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  • Les commentaires sont les bienvenus j'ai un peu de difficulté avec la grammaire de ce truc-là. vraiment intéressant par ailleurs. Commented Apr 23, 2022 at 0:47
  • 2
    Oui. — À quoi ils voient ça ? — Ils voient ça au fait que [...] ou — Ils voient ça à la baisse d'intensité [...] etc.
    – jlliagre
    Commented Apr 23, 2022 at 11:48
  • @jlliagre Si tu parcoures LBU14@281b un moment donné, est-ce que ça participe de ça i.e. marquant l'appartenance, équivalent d'une conjonctive avec le verbe avoir ?? Ils donnent « Je ne TROUVE qu'un défaut À CET OUVRAGE (Ac. 1935) ->• Je trouve que cet ouvrage n'a qu'un défaut. ». Après au moins un café à essayer de faire entrer la phrase de la question dans ce moule-là j'ai pas été capable, remarque c'est peut-être comme avec le bonhomme pendu de sudoku avec les ronds de couleurs là. Commented Apr 23, 2022 at 17:34

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