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FR: the judicial system and the government themselves

Discussion in 'French and English Grammar / Grammaire française et anglaise' started by esasm18, Jan 5, 2013.

  1. esasm18 New Member

    English - England
    hi,

    i want to say 'if the judicial system and the government themselves don't follow the laws...'

    i've got 'si le système judiciaire et le gouvernement ils-mêmes ne suivent pas les lois...' but i don't think that's right. i know that if they were feminine nouns it would be 'elles-mêmes' and if it was singular it would be 'lui-même', but i'm not sure what it is for masculine plural. leur-mêmes? ils-mêmes?

    thanks
     
  2. wildan1

    wildan1 Moderando ma non troppo

    Normally themselves would be eux-mêmes, but for your sentence, esasm18, French does not use the plural for collective singular nouns as British English sometimes does, so:

    le gouvernement lui-même (masculine singular) is what you need, followed by a singular verb: …ne suit pas.
     
  3. bloomiegirl

    bloomiegirl Senior Member

    New York
    US English
    But wouldn't one say "Si le système judiciaire et le gouvernement eux-mêmes ne suivent pas les lois..."?
    In this case, "eux-mêmes" modifies both "
    le système judiciaire" and "le gouvernement" – n'est-ce pas?
     
  4. wildan1

    wildan1 Moderando ma non troppo

    Yes, of course you are correct, bg, in reading the sentence that way. I had read it differently, and to me the wording is ambiguous--either way could be correct, but as you point out, the grammar would be different and much clearer in French.
     
  5. Maître Capello

    Maître Capello Mod et ratures

    Suisse romande
    French – Switzerland
    If “judicial system” were not mentioned in the sentence, would a Brit really say, “the government themselves”? :confused: I know it would be natural for Britons to use the singular in one sentence and the plural in the next, e.g. “The government is XXX. They are YYY” (which I understand fairly well since we do exactly the same in French). On the other hand, mixing the two in the same phrase looks really odd to me. (I wrote "odd" but was tempted to say "wrong." :p)

    Anyway, even if setting the grammar aside and considering only the meaning, BG's suggestion seems more logical to me.
     
  6. bloomiegirl

    bloomiegirl Senior Member

    New York
    US English
    Oh, I hadn't thought about that... There are some nouns that are grammatically singular in AE while they may be plural in BE. I had forgotten completely about that (here's a reference) and – being an American – I really can't address it.
     
  7. Maître Capello

    Maître Capello Mod et ratures

    Suisse romande
    French – Switzerland
    Ah, right. So the noun government itself is considered plural in BE. Then, I guess it makes sense that themselves should agree with it. In other words, in BE there is definitely the ambiguity mentioned by wildan1.
     
  8. radagasty Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    Australia, Cantonese
    > So the noun government itself is considered plural in BE.

    Rather, the noun government can be considered plural. The number of a collective noun is generally determined by its sense in BE, and the plural is only used when it is considered as the sum of its parts.

    The government has fallen.
    Here, the singular must be used, since the government is considered to be a single indivisible entity.

    The government are divided among themselves.
    Here, the plural must be used, since the government is considered as the collection of its members.

    The government is/are discussing the measure.
    Either number may be used, depending on sense. The singular would usually be used if the discussion was with an external party and the plural if the discussion took place within the government.

    Going back to the OP's phrase, either number may be used in principle, although with a difference in meaning:
    If the government itself does not follow the law... refers to acts of government that ignore the law.
    If the government themselves do not follow the law... refers to individual members of the government who break the law.

    However, the original context, If the judicial system and the government themselves do not follow the law... suggests that it is the government as an institution that is meant, and therefore the singular would have been used had 'the judicial system' not been added, since the latter clearly refers to the institution and not its members.
     
  9. Tochka Senior Member

    Thanks for noting this, radagasty! I was familiar with the BE plural usage, but hadn't realized it could also be seen as singular, depending on context.
     
  10. wildan1

    wildan1 Moderando ma non troppo

    That's what I said at the beginning…
     

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