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I have learned this phrase some time ago and since it has been sounding strange. The beginning is all fine « montrer du doigt » and I’m expecting to hear something more than just a specific responsibility. Is « le doigt la responsabilité » a phrase in French, maybe?

I'm confused by the "...doigt la responsabilité" rather than the "du doigt". It sounds like someone dropped one "de" in front of "la". "...doigt de la responsabilité" sounds more correct. Is there a phrase that has a construction "[verb] du/de la [object] le/la [noun"?

For example, in the phrase "Tirer des leçons de la situation", there's "de" in front of "la". Or "Prendre du recul sur la situation", again there's "sur" before "la", or "Changer du tout au tout"...

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    Does it sound strange because there's a prepositional phrase between the verb and the direct object? Would "Montrer la responsabilité du doigt" sound better? If this is the case, you're taking English rules (or more precisely, guidelines) and applying them to French. Of course, if English isn't your first language, my comment may be completely off-base. Apr 30, 2023 at 16:42
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    @PeterShor Indeed splitting the prepositional phrase from the verb is not a problem in French. But as far as the question goes I'm not sure what it's really asking.
    – None
    Apr 30, 2023 at 16:46
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    La responsabilité is the direct objet of montrer, so there should be no preposition between the verb and the object. Du doigt is a circumstantial complement, montrer du doigt means the same than montrer avec le doigt (but we don't say that).
    – None
    Apr 30, 2023 at 16:52
  • Does this dictionary entry help in any way? Or this one?
    – None
    Apr 30, 2023 at 17:23
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    It's possible to say also montrer la responsabilité du doigt, which brings the direct object closer to the verb montrer.
    – Frank
    Apr 30, 2023 at 17:44

1 Answer 1

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Let's start from this sentence :

On montre du doigt la responsabilité des paysans dans la gestion de l'eau.

We can split the sentence thus:

  • On montre du doigt where du doigt is a circumstantial complement. Montrer du doigt is a phrase in which du doigt means avec le doigt (but we don't say avec le doigt).
  • la responsabilité des paysans is the direct object of montrer. Montrer is a transitive verb and as such is followed by a direct object (which means there is no preposition between the verb and the object).

One can say montrer du doigt quelque chose or montrer quelque chose du doigt, the object can be placed indifferently, but not all the time, it mostly depends on its length. In my example I would not split montrer from du doigt because the object is rather long. It's often a matter of feeling.

Tirer des leçons de quelque chose is a different construction. We have the verb tirer which has a direct objet: des leçons, and a circumstantial complement : de la situation : on tire de quelque chose, this de means "from". The same with prendre du recul sur la situation, du recul is a circumstantial complement introduced by the preposition sur. In the above example la responsabilité is not a circumstantial complement but the direct object of the verb (whereas du doigt could be said to be a circumstantial complement).

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