I'm reading Le Poisson-scie et sa cousine by Pierre Béarn and got confused on what the first stanza (literally) means.

I suppose " Un poisson-scie s'encolérait d'avoir perdu chez les sardines, une cousine qu'il aimait " is saying the sawfish lost his way in the home of his cousin, some sardines, then the sawfish got angry. But the sardines appear both as plural (les sardines) and singular (une cousine) here, isn't that conflicting? Or, is it that there's no singular form for sardines in French?

The full content of the poem is as below

Le Poisson-scie et sa cousine

Pierre Béarn

Un poisson-scie s'encolérait
d'avoir perdu chez les sardines
une cousine qu'il aimait .

-- Rendez-la-moi sales gamines ,
leur criait-il d'un air mauvais ,
ou je vous change en orphelines !

-- Foutriquet ! dit une bambine ,
ne vois-tu pas que ta cousine
est avec nous dans un filet ?

L'énervé dut scier les rets
d'où s'échappèrent les sardines
mais lui resta dans le filet :

Il s'était trompé de cousine .

1 Answer 1


Les sardines is a plural. The sawfish didn't lose his way, he lost his cousin. Your confusion comes from giving the verb an unaccusative interpretation. Avoir perdu is the past infinitive of the transitive verb perdre (quelque chose) 'to lose (something)'; by contrast, "getting lost", in French, would be conveyed as se perdre, and, in the perfect, s'être perdu (i.e. you would have a reflexive pronoun, and therefore, the auxiliary être).

A sawfish was getting angry
For having lost, at the sardines' home,
A female cousin that he loved.

-- Give her back to me, you naughty kids,
He was yelling with a nasty face,
Or I will turn you into orphans!

-- You little prick! one child said,
Can you not see that your cousin
Is here with us inside a net?

The angry one had to saw the net,
From which the sardines could escape;
But as for him, he stayed within the net:

He had spotted the wrong cousin.
  • I see, reflective or non-reflective, could be totally different meaning....
    – athos
    Feb 5 at 11:14
  • 1
    compare with English: to have lost something, to be lost.
    – njzk2
    Feb 5 at 11:41
  • 1
    @athos reflexive Feb 5 at 13:18
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    @njzk2 But to be lost is stative; in French it does not involve the reflexive pronoun. The right comparison is with to get lost: être perdu 'to be lost' vs. se perdre 'to get lost' (and in the past form avoir été perdu 'have been lost' vs. s'être perdu 'have got lost'). Feb 5 at 14:40

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