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This is from Proust:

Elle avait souvent prétendu qu’elle avait des amis qu’elle me préférait.

This means that she often let me know that she had friends that she preferred to me. (I'm pretty sure 'prétend' in this context is a false friend with 'pretend', but in other contexts it usually is not, if I'm wrong let me know). Whereas, "elle me préfère" means that she prefers me. So 'x y préfère' translates to 'x prefers y' but 'p que x y préfère' means 'p that x prefers z to y'. What other verbs do this? Do such verbs have a name and how can I find out what these other verbs are?

3 Answers 3

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  1. I don't think prétendu is a false friend here. She said she preferred some of her friends but the sentence implies that was probably not true.

  2. The difference in meaning is not that much related to the verb used but more to the fact the pronoun me can be either a direct object: elle me préfère = elle préfère moi or an indirect object ses amis qu'elle me préfère = ses amis qu'elle préfère à moi = elle préfère ses amis à moi.

    Here are other examples:

    Elle me présente à ses amis : She introduces me to her friends

    Ses amis qu'elle me présente : She introduces her friends to me.

    This can probably done with plenty of verbs that accept a person either as an indirect or a direct object.

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  • Weird, so is it always the case that: 'x que y z préfèr' always is equivalent to 'y préfèr x à z'?
    – bobsmith76
    Mar 9, 2023 at 9:04
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    Préfèr doesn't exist, you want préfère. There is no issue when the direct and indirect pronouns are different (third person): elle le préfère / qu'elle lui préfère and elle les préfère / qu'elle leur préfère.
    – jlliagre
    Mar 9, 2023 at 13:14
  • don't understand what you mean.
    – bobsmith76
    Mar 9, 2023 at 13:27
  • Please provide actual nouns/pronouns clarifying what you mean with the x/y/z patterns.
    – jlliagre
    Mar 9, 2023 at 22:42
  • For example, in 'elle me préfèr à toi', you can sub x for elle, me for y and z for toi and get 'x y préfèr à z', sorry, you're talking to a logician.
    – bobsmith76
    Mar 12, 2023 at 22:28
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What jiliagre wrote, plus I don't think it has a name, as

  1. It's a rare case of a verb that evaluates A (direct complement) in relation to B (indirect complement). Other approaching verbs either don't have this evaluation component (e.g. substituer à) - effectively making A and B interchangeable, are only used with complements that have different direct and indirect pronouns ("me/me" but "le/lui"), are not typically used with an indirect pronoun (e.g. comparer à), etc.
  2. The construction remains semantically unambiguous, which doesn't call for a special classification.
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Préférer A à B : To prefer A over B.

Now consider these structures:

full pronoun COI before verb translation
J'envoyer un cadeau à ma mère Je lui envoie un cadeau I send her a gift
Tu écris une lettre à moi Tu m'écris une lettre You write me a letter
Elle demande la réponse à son ami Elle lui demande la réponse She asks him for the answer

Hopefully these examples allow you to see the parallel:

full pronoun COI before verb translation
Elle préfère ses amis à moi Elle me préfère ses amis She prefers her friends over me

In each case, the à + COI has moved before the verb.

Now let's add one more column to complete the picture:

full pronoun COI before verb reorder with relative pronoun
J'envoyer un cadeau à ma mère Je lui envoie un cadeau Le cadeau que je lui envoie
Tu écris une lettre à moi Tu m'écris une lettre La lettre que tu m'écris
Elle demande la réponse à son ami Elle lui demande la réponse La réponse qu'elle lui demande
Elle préfère ses amis à moi Elle me préfère ses amis Les amis qu'elle me préfère

Préférer does feel odd to me in this order because my brain wants to read me as the direct object (which has the exact same form), in which case it'd have the opposite meaning. But it is unambiguous when you consider it more closely, as guillaume wrote.


Also, I agree with jlliagre that prétendre could be translated by its cognate pretend. But it could also be claim. As you know, these could involve quite different strategies / levels of pretense, so it depends on what Proust is saying in context.

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  • Excellent table. And as for 'prétendre', the 'elle' in this case refers to 'Gilberte' and it's quite clear from the story that 'Gilberte' is not pretending to prefer others to him, she really does prefere others to him. It was translated as 'boasted' in the Kilmartin translation.
    – bobsmith76
    Mar 12, 2023 at 22:11

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