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My question is about the bolded text below1:

Après deux ans dans la famille adipeuse, un record, j’ai dû déménager à nouveau. Mon sens de l’initiative et mon intérêt pour la science n’ont pas plu. Avec les autres jeunes protégés de l’endroit, on avait pris l’habitude de tester nos substances psychoactives préférées sur Rocket, le beagle familial. Ce n’était rien de bien méchant ni conséquent. Nous n’avions pas les moyens de lui offrir les quantités qu’on s’envoyait nous-mêmes, mais on se cotisait souvent pour qu’il ait sa part.

DeepL translates the sentence that has bolded text with:

We couldn't afford to give him the quantities we sent ourselves, but we often chipped in so he could have his share.

I tried looking up "moyens" in WordReference, but I couldn't find any entry that explains "avoir moyens de [faire qch]" being an expression that means "to afford"; so, instead, I searched "afford" in the English->French search in WordReference. When I did so, I got a page that confused me. It says that:

  • "afford [sth]" can be translated with "avoir les moyens d'acheter [qch]", or "s'offrir [qch]"
  • "afford to [do sth]" can be translated with "avoir les moyens de [faire qch]", or "s'offrir [qch]"

I'm confused because the bolded text seems to be using both "avoir les moyens de [faire qch]", and "s'offrir". I'm also confused because instead of seeing "s'offrir" in the bolded text, I see "lui offrir"; but "lui" is not a form that "se" can take with a "se" verb!

Why are two different ways of meaning "to afford" being used at the same time, and why is "s'offrir" rendered as "lui offrir" in the bolded sentence?


1. Quote is from "La bête à sa mère", Chapter 2, by David Goudreault

1 Answer 1

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"lui" is not a form that "se" can take with a "se" verb

Don't forget that a reflexive verb is often just a transitive verb that can take a reflexive pronoun. For example, s'habiller can be considered just a special case of habiller qqn. Hence s'offrir qqch is just a special case of offrir qqch à qqn.

But anyway, I would say the problem here is WR's ambiguous break of what s'offrir replaces in those examples. It doesn't replace avoir les moyens de or pouvoir. It replaces (s')acheter, i.e. one of the things you might have the moyens to do or peut do.

I'd say the reason is that since "afford" basically means "be able to buy / pay for", if we paraphrase it as avoir les moyens de _____ or pouvoir _____ then there are only so many verbs that can follow and still mean "afford". S'offrir is common enough to warrant mention as a translation, I guess.

In short, we don't have two different ways of talking about affording, just one complete and unambiguous way to do so, plus a confusingly phrased WR entry.

Literally:

We didn't have the means to provide him with the quantities...

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  • "Hence s'offrir qqch is just a special case of offrir qqch à qqn." What confuses me is that whenever i see "se [verb]" in WR, it always means the more specific reflexive verb use; if they mean the more general use, they would say "[verb] à qqn". am i correct in this, or instead does WR sometimes say "se [verb]" when it really means that i can use the verb non-reflexively for that entry?
    – silph
    Jun 20 at 15:15
  • also, in the WR entry for "afford [sth]", i see that "s'offrir [qch], se payer [qch]" is on the first line, above "avoir les moyens d'acheter [qch]"; if "s'offrir [qch]" was listed as the next line after "avoir les moyens d'acheter [qch]", i could believe that WR is trying to tell me that they really mean "avoir les moyens d'acheter [qch] (or s'offrir [qch])". so, it sounds like WR is telling me that just "s'offrir [qch]" on its own is a translation of "to afford [sth]". is this true?
    – silph
    Jun 20 at 15:19
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    s'envoyer is slang for taking drugs here. It does not mean send. We couldn't afford to give him the amount we took ourselves. Not such nice people giving drugs to a dog. It's amazing how far off this automated programs can be.
    – Lambie
    Jun 20 at 15:39
  • @silph There will often be a light change in meaning with the reflexive form, sometimes a more dramatic one. I would say that if WR has an entry for it, it's worth checking for a totally unique meaning (as I think I wrote in some thread between us), especially when incomprehensible transitively, but it's not a guarantee that the transitive sense won't work.
    – Luke Sawczak
    Jun 20 at 18:34
  • @silph Reading over the WR entry for "afford" again, I would say it's very confusing and somewhat misleading. The Collins tab does a better job with its alternatives: [avoir les moyens d'acheter] / [pouvoir s'offrir] / [pouvoir payer]. I wonder if their « Note: "Afford" in this sense usually follows a derivative of "can" or "be able to." » refers to their first translation (s'offrir, se payer), where it does make sense, despite it being formatted after the last one (avoir les moyens d'acheter), where it does not make sense.
    – Luke Sawczak
    Jun 20 at 18:36

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