I am having trouble parsing the bolded noun phrase below1:

Avec les autres jeunes protégés de l’endroit, on avait pris l’habitude de tester nos substances psychoactives préférées sur Rocket, le beagle familial.

I'm having trouble parsing it, because of the following three things that I think could be true:

  1. "jeunes" could be an adjective (meaning "young"), or a noun (meaning "youth")
  2. "protégés" could be a noun (meaning "protected people", such as foster children living in a foster home), or a past participle that acts like an adjective (meaning "protected")
  3. "de l'endroit" could be parsed separately from "jeunes protégés", and mean "of the place", or it could be parsed together with "protégés" if "protégés" is in fact an adjective, making "protégé de l'endroit", meaning "protected from the place".

DeepL seems to think that "jeunes" is an adjective, "protégés" is a noun:

With the other young charges of the place, we had taken the habit of testing our favorite psychoactive substances on Rocket, the family beagle.


  1. Are my three assumptions true?

  2. Could "Les jeunes protégés de l'endroit" mean all of the below, depending on context?

    a) Les [jeunes (n.)] [protégés de l'endroit]
        The youth protected from the place

    b) Les [jeunes (n.)] [protégés (adj.)] [de l'endroit]
        The protected youth of the place

    c) Les [jeunes (adj.)] [protégés (n.)] [de l'endroit]
        The young foster children of the place

1. From "La bête à sa mère", Chapter 2, by David Goudreault.

  • to take a habit is clearly not English. [...] we got into the habit of testing. The word ward exists in English. If these are foster children, the word ward would work. Along with the other young wards of the place, we had gotten into the habit of testing
    – Lambie
    Jun 20, 2022 at 15:31

1 Answer 1


Sure, technically and in a vacuum all your assumptions could be true. Yet consider the idea of youths being "protected" from a place (2a) might rather be phrased differently (se sauver d'un endroit, se réfugier ailleurs, se mettre à l'abri etc.). Before I looked it up, I spontaneously read a compound noun or modified noun (jeunes (adj.) protégés (n.)) followed with their location (de l'endroit, from the place), so somewhat like (2c). It's not so much what is possible, but rather what is likely or unlikely, or what association you make first. But it's also all about context.

The general context is a foster family and earlier on you had the statement "trois autres jeunes étaient placés sous la protection de cette famille[...]" so subsuming them to "jeunes protégés" makes sense. We know they're foster children, not specific protégés by relation to their mentors (if maybe by analogy, or ironically, I haven't read the book, maybe it's just a play on words enabled by the prior reference in the text), but the text doesn't say "les autres enfants de la famille d'accueil", it just refers to something like "the other young (folks) taken under the wing (of the foster family)". The sentence context is one of them is describing what they were doing at the house while the rest of the family (seemingly m/f and their natural daughter) went out. They were doing drugs, with the dog...

So there's no "protection from a place" meaning possible here and the people being protected (2b) are the same as the foster-children (2c) but we know the text doesn't say foster-children per se as it leverages a prior reference to "jeunes placés sous la protection de cette famille" and reformats it. Still, "protected youth" feels to me like some abstract Humanities term and doesn't match the language used here and I don't think the text refers to the youngest of the foster children either; the way (2b/c) are translated to English introduces imho considerations which I don't find in the French language excerpt.

  • your understanding what is most likely to be meant from context really does require being familiar with the language (eg, that's why you know se sauver d'un l'endroit is more likely to be used to mean "protected from the place"). as a French language learner, it's not obvious to me that francophones wouldn't say "protected youth" (ie "jeunes (n.) protégés (adj.)"; i have to keep an open mind that any word i come across, including "protégé", might be used in ways i can't guess. (continued..)
    – silph
    Jun 20, 2022 at 15:24
  • i have no way of knowing that "protected youth" sounds like an abstract Humanities term; it might be common speech for all i know! all this to say: wow, learning a new language takes a lot of time to gather intuition! i guess some sentences will certainly be ambiguious before this intuition is developed, especially if i'm relying on understanding the sentence through syntax-analysis, given that my exposure to vocabulary and its nuances is very low!
    – silph
    Jun 20, 2022 at 15:25
  • se sauver d'un endroit doesn't mean to escape from a place? jeune protégé de l'endroit does not collocate "to protect from" as in danger: se protéger d'un endroit, d'une personne, d'une attitude. Nothing dangerous (except the drugs!) is mentioned. So, it really is not ambiguous at all.
    – Lambie
    Jun 20, 2022 at 17:08

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