Dis-moi qui tu hantes et je te dirai qui tu es

Discussion in 'French-English Vocabulary / Vocabulaire Français-Anglais' started by Saratoga, Aug 15, 2006.

  1. Saratoga Senior Member

    Saratoga Springs, NY
    usa english
    Hi all,

    My French teacher introduced us to a proverb yesterday:

    Dis-moi [qui tu hantes] et je te dirai qui tu es.

    Which translates (approximately) to 'Tell me who/what you visit/frequent and I will tell you who you are.'

    My question -- the clause in brackets above has as its head the object of the verb hantes -- 'who/what you frequent'. So why is qui used? My understanding of the syntax of qui is that it appears when the head of the relative clause is the subject of the verb that follows.

    I asked the teacher, but he stared at the sentence for a while, scratched his head and said he didn't know. He commented that possibly there is something archaic about the syntax here.

    Can anyone explain the use of qui here?

    And apologies if this is an old thread or if it has a well-known answer -- this is my first post here.
  2. rsweet

    rsweet Senior Member

    English, North America
    Welcome to the forums, Saratoga!

    I learned this proverb differently when I was in school. It was "Dis-moi qui te hante . . . ," which was translated as "Tell me who haunts you . . . ." Maybe a French native can help us out. I first read this in a novel, so it's possible that the author changed a well-known proverb.
  3. edwingill Senior Member

    England English
    it translates as:you're known by the company you keep. sorry i can't help you with qui
  4. Gardefeu Senior Member

    No, it's definitely Dis-moi qui tu hantes

    Saratoga, will you find it any clearer if I suggest that your English translation is not quite correct? It should read: tell me whom you haunt
  5. edwingill Senior Member

    England English
    I don't think the author changed the French version of the proverb
  6. geostan

    geostan Senior Member

    English Canada
    Your problem stems fom your analysis. The clause is not relative, but interrogative. It is an indirect question, the direct form being qui hantes-tu?

    As for the meaning, in Canada our English equivalent is Birds of a feather flock together.

  7. jann

    jann co-mod'

    English - USA
    you are confused by "qui" in "qui tu hantes" but somehow the "qui" in "qui tu es" doesn't bother you.... yet both are correct. maybe it would help to think of them as parallel structures?

    qui est-ce que tu hantes? qui hantes-tu ? whom do you frequent?
    dis-moi, qui est-ce que tu hantes? dis-moi, qui hantes-tu ? tell me, whom do you frequent?
    dis-moi qui tu hantes. tell me whom you frequent.

    the qui = subject rule that you are thinking of isn't relevant here, as geostan says, because that rule is for relative clauses. in the proverb, it's not a relative clause but rather a question. relative clauses depend on some other part of the sentence and provide more information. I have put some examples of relative clauses in italics. as you can see, when there is need for a subject in the relative clause, you use qui... otherwise que.

    it's the dress (that) I like best. c'est la robe que je préfère
    the solution (that) they found is very clever. la solution qu'ils ont trouvée est très intélligente.

    the paragraph that is problematic is at the top of the 3rd page. le paragraphe qui pose problème est en haut de la 3ème page.
    they are proposing a solution that will be very hard to implement. ils proposent une solution qui sera très difficile à mettre en place.

    the relative clauses could all be omitted entirely and you would still have complete sentences. you can see how very different these examples are from the statement in the proverb... where you couldn't omit anything at all, because indeed it is not a relative clause.

    hope that helps :)
  8. Saratoga Senior Member

    Saratoga Springs, NY
    usa english
    Dear all,

    Thanks for your suggestions. I believe the technical term for the kind of structure that we are discussing is a 'free relative clause' or a 'headless relative clause'.

    Compare English 'I know who you want', which means approximately ' I know [the person] who you want.'

    In my view, these are still relative clauses, not interrogatives. (At least in English.) The reason in English is that they have the distribution of ordinary noun phrases, not sentences. For example, "I based my estimate on what you told me." [What you told me] must be a noun phrase because subordinate clauses cannot follow a preposition.

    But perhaps French syntax treats these differently? Perhaps in a free relative, the choice of que/qui is not based on subject/object (as in a normal relative clause) but on human/non-human status.

    Is there a native speaker who could tell us whether the following are grammatical:

    a.) Je ne mangerais pas qui tu a acheté.
    b.) Je ne connais pas qui tu a encontré.
    c.) Il m'a dit qui il a vu.
    d.) Dis-moi qui tu a vu.

    All examples involve free relatives with a relativized object. (A) is a verb with an NP object only (no clausal object allowed). (B) is a verb that allows both NP and clausal objects. (C) is a verb that prefers clausal objects, and (D) checks to see if the imperative plays any role in permitting qui here.

  9. l_gabriel_l Member

    France and French

    Je vais répondre en français, c'est plus clair pour moi. La difficulté ici c'est de comprendre que "qui tu hantes" est le complement d'objet direct.
    Dis moi ? quoi? dis moi qui tu hantes.
    Attention, la règle du qui sujet est trés correcte mais inaplicable ici
    Dis moi ? quoi ? dis moi que veux-tu ?
    Dis moi ? quoi ? dis moi où tu vas ?

    Geostan a vu juste c'est une question (indirect). et la traduction est correcte comme çà
    tell me (who or what) you haunt and I will tell you who you are.
    Cela ne siginifie pas obligatoirement une personne que j'hantes mais aussi un lieu. comprendre "hanter" commer "être trés souvent avec ou dans", un peu comme un fantome condamné à hanter qqun ou qqchose.
    j'hantes le terrain de basket, comprendre je suis toujours sur un terrain de basket, je suis presque dépendant, nous pouvons en déduire que j'adore le basket.
    C'est peut être plus clair en précisant que un français peut considerer une personne comme une personne mais aussi comme un lieu. Cela se voit souvent avec un médecin, dentiste. je vais voir un médecin (cela peut être MON médecin ou un endroit où je peux voir un médecin)
    enfin, c'est une vue d'un français de France ;-)
  10. balaam Senior Member

    french (belgium)
    j'aimerai préciser que ce proverbe est rarement formulé tel quel de nos jours.

    "dis moi qui tu fréquentes, je te dirais qui tu es" a la manière actuelle de le dire.

    comme le dis gabriel, "hanter" est au sens premier l'activité du fantôme, mais signifie parfois "se trouver en permanence à cette endroit".

    pour revenir à la question de dépard, les deux Qui ont des natures différentes.

    le premier QUI représente une ou des personnes indéfinies dont on ne sais rien, mais qui constitue l'indice recherché.

    who are the people around you ?

    le second QUI représente la personne étudiée, ou plus exactement la nature profonde de cette personne qui peut être déterminée par les personnes qu'il fréquente.

    i'll tell you who you are
  11. ChiMike Senior Member

    Chicago USA
    USA, English
    You asked a really good question! And your teacher was quite correct, there is something "archaic" here (it is a proverb, after all). It goes to the fact that "qui" here means "whoever" (whoever it is that you frequent). When it is used in this way it is said to be used as an absolute (Qui vivra verra.) or as a nominal (Qui m'aime me suivra). It goes back to the fact that in Old French "ki" (qui - many Old French texts spell sort of phonetically, so "ki" for "qui" was not invented in the time of the internet!) when it meant "whoever" was not inflected (only one form). This problem exists with "whoever" in English. Most people say, "I'll love whoever I want." Supposed "purists" who don't understand the distinction insist on "whomever." They are actually (despite what you may have heard in English class) wrong. As Fowler (Modern English Usage) says: "...whoever is a relative that resembles what in containing its antecedent in itself.." (As in: I want what I want, when I want it. - I want whoever I want when I want him.) It was also in this kind of construction that the word "that" started to be used to refer to "who" (whoever it is that you frequent being just as acceptable as whom). This is what French grammarians frequently mean when they say "qui" is used as an absolute.

    Grevisse, Le Bon Usage, paragraph 544, explains it this way:

    Qui employé absolument(cf. 541) comme nominal (461, b) non prépositionnel ou précédé de à, de, pour, envers, a, dans des phrases telles que les suivantes, sa fonction (sujet ou complément) dans la proposition même qu'il introduit - et c'est cette proposition tout entière qui est complément du verbe ou d'un autre mot de la principale:
    Aimes qui vous aime. (Ac.) - Ne lapides pas qui vous ombrage. (Hugo, Préf. de Cromwell) - Choisis qui tu voudras. (Corneille, Cid, IV, 5). - J'aime qui je veux. (J. Renard, Journal, 19 novembre 1898) - Dieu choisit ou réserve qui lui plaît. (J. Bernanos, Dialogue des Carmelites, V, 16) ...

    Since we are in fairly difficult grammatical constructions (to analyze), I will translate this:

    Qui used as an absolute or as a nominal not prepositional or preceded by à, de, pour, envers, has, in sentences such as the following, its function (subject or object) in the clause itself which it introduces - and it is that entire clause which is the object of the verb or of another word in the principal clause.

    In this particular proverb, it is, of course, also possible to analyze the "qui" as an interrogative, but, as shown above, that analysis will not cover all such uses. Grevisse's is therefore preferable, and it allows the question to be related to what happens in many like cases in English.

    But on these lines, I do have a question for the native speakers of French:
    Dis moi qui c'est que tu hantes...
    Dis moi les noms de ceux que tu hantes...
    Dis moi ceux que tu hantes...

    All correct?
  12. l_gabriel_l Member

    France and French

    le premier QUI représente une ou des personnes indéfinies dont on ne sais rien, mais qui constitue l'indice recherché.
    donc effectivement, c'est une question on cherche à savoir qui sont ces personnes. ;-)

    dans les variantes connues
    dis-moi ce que tu manges et je te dirais qui tu est ;-)
  13. balaam Senior Member

    french (belgium)
    not the first one. dis moi qui sont ceux que tu hantes or dis moi qui est celui que tu hantes. this second form sound odd, too verbose.
    I would use these sentences only if some possible haunted persons are defined before and I want to know which of them are/is the good one.
  14. Saratoga Senior Member

    Saratoga Springs, NY
    usa english
    Dear all,

    Many thanks (especially to ChiMike) for explaining this to me. I feel like I've got a handle on it now!

    Best to all,

  15. Ralphy New Member

    Woodhaven, NY
    French from France
    Dear All,
    I guess the correct origin is
    " Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es"
    which simplifies and leaves us with no "qui" at all ;o)
    So 2 sets of brakets would have been more correct even.
    "Physiologie du gout" , A. Brillat-Savarin , 1825.
    As per my weak memory a greek philosopher launched the subject
    on its modern track, similar to the Eucharist transmutation bread-wine>body-blood of christianism.
    The French XIX Century Chef was more concerned by
    having his concitoyens eating healthy...
    Best regards,

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