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Bonjour à tous. I'm trying to figure out how to translate a sentence, and I'm sorry in advance if it turns out to be very simple and obvious. I've been down a rabbit hole of grammar articles, it feels like, and I haven't found a clear answer. I'm pretty confused at this point. So, thanks in advance for your help!

If I wanted to say "He saves flowers which helps us learn from them," ('them' referring to flowers), is it grammatically correct to say:
"...ce qui nous aide à apprendre d'elles,"
"...ce qui nous aide à en apprendre,"
or are neither correct? (or is either correct??)

In my most recent research of trying to determine how to say this, I've read that stressed pronouns are only used for people/animals, not things, and follow "à" but not "de," so, it seems the first option wouldn't be right. I recall that "en" can replace a noun where "de" is involved, but I also read that there are some verbs that don't allow an indirect object pronoun to precede the verb. In addition, technically "them" isn't a noun, right? So, does it even apply here?

If anyone could explain grammatically why my attempts are correct or incorrect, how to formulate this particular sentence in French, and how to work out this sort of thing in general for future reference, I would really appreciate it! Merci d'avance!

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  • Both are good attempts and, in my opinion, could be valid sentences for other things than flowers. That is, I think the real issue is actually that "learn from the flowers" doesn't translate well directly into "apprendre des fleurs". I would probably say "apprendre de la part des fleurs" or a similar paraphrase. But I could be wrong, hence this is a comment and not an answer. Welcome to French SE, by the way :)
    – Luke Sawczak
    Jun 10 at 21:58
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    @LukeSawczak Apprendre des fleurs is precisely "learn from the flowers". I definitely would not use de la part des fleurs because de la part de implies a will from whoever is giving. Both turns imply a one way movement, but with de la part de X the movement is giver to X. Apprendre de X is taking from X without X necessarily being aware they are sharing their knowledge. This is not an answer to the question though. Bienvenue de notre part à Hope et j''espère qu'il/elle appendra beaucoup de French Language.
    – None
    Jun 11 at 6:25
  • One does say: apprendre des autres. So just saying...But I find the English a bit naive. Is it literary or scientific?
    – Lambie
    Jun 11 at 13:56
  • My problem is with the logic. If he saves the flowers in question, it does not "help us" learn from them, it ensures their existence and therefore makes learning possible.
    – Lambie
    Jun 11 at 14:56
  • @Lambie That might indeed be what's setting off my intuition — more a reaction to the English being a stretch/cutesy than to the French (i.e., my internal sensors, right or wrong, tell me "If I question it in English, there's even less chance of it being right in French!"). That said, I recognize it as a little pedantic on my part, since one certainly does hear people "learn from the bees, learn from the trees, learn from the rivers...", etc. even though we might prefer Jesus' "Consider the lily" and Proverbs' "Go to the ant" :)
    – Luke Sawczak
    Jun 11 at 15:05

1 Answer 1

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Indeed en can replace a noun "where de is involved". But de can be many things. When you say apprendre de, de is a preposition. En can replace de+noun when de is a partitive article (Veux-tu des pommes ? Oui, j'en veux bien.)

So ce qui nous aide à apprendre d'elles is the only correct translation among the two you suggest. I'm not saying it is the best. In fact apprendre d'elles doesn't bother me at all, here is a perfectly correct and usual sentence:

J'ai beaucoup observé les chats et beaucoup appris d'eux.

What bothers me in your sentence is aide. I would not use aider in this context but permettre.

Il protège/préserve (thanks @jlliagre for their comment) les fleurs ce qui nous permet d'appendre d'elles.

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    Il épargne, il préserve or il protège, depending of the meaning of "save" here, might be a better choice than il sauve.
    – jlliagre
    Jun 11 at 8:52
  • Un livre: Sauver les plantes pour sauver l'humanité. "save" n'est pas épargner, préserver ou protéger. Voir: mnhn.fr/fr/especes-sauvees-de-l-extinction "L'idée de vouloir sauver les plantes de l'extinction est récente".
    – Lambie
    Jun 11 at 14:46
  • Not sure about that generalization of de. Aren't sentence like this quite normal? « C'est mon père, j'en ai appris beaucoup sur la vie. »
    – Luke Sawczak
    Jun 11 at 15:07
  • @LukeSawczak For that specific sentence the idiomatic phrasing is definitely “C'est mon père, j'ai appris beaucoup sur sa vie”. For the original sentence, I'd consider “en apprendre” to be old-fashioned: I'd expect to read this in 17th literature, not sure about 19th century, and I'd not write it. Trying to figure out why, I think it's because apprendre can take both a direct complement and a complement with de, and en is (nowadays) reserved for the direct complement if the antecedent has a partitive article. Thus en parler (no possible COD) but apprendre d'elles. Jun 11 at 15:30
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    @LukeSawczak Thinking further about it, there may be an animate/inanimate distinction. “C'est mon père, j'ai appris beaucoup de choses de lui” → I wouldn't use en. On the other hand, “J'ai lu des livres, j'en ai retenu beaucoup de choses” is idiomatic. But that's not the only distinction: I find “?J'ai lu des livres, j'en ai appris beaucoup de choses” borderline, even though the grammar seems to be exactly the same. Jun 11 at 20:44

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