FR: Combien de <nom pluriel> sont-ils / est-il / y a-t-il ? - accord du verbe

Discussion in 'French and English Grammar / Grammaire française et anglaise' started by sonsonty, Apr 22, 2013.

  1. sonsonty New Member

    Laquelle de ces deux phrases est la correcte :

    Combien d'étudiants sont-ils au cours aujourd'hui?
    Combien d'étudiants est-il au cours aujourd'hui?

    Merci d'avance
  2. lilison Senior Member

    English - Canadian
    Combien d'étudiants sont au cours aujourd'hui? (pluriel)
  3. CarlosRapido

    CarlosRapido Senior Member

    Québec - Canada
    français - English (Can)
    Welcome to the forum Sonsonty.

    Combien - how many - implies an indeterminate number, thus plural. Which doesn't prevent the answer from being singular. :D
  4. sonsonty New Member

    I don't quite understand what you mean... If you have the expression 'combien de' and an impersonal expression (il est), shall the latter be in plural or singular (ils sont/il est)?

  5. CarlosRapido

    CarlosRapido Senior Member

    Québec - Canada
    français - English (Can)
    Same as English, you wouldn't say how many is there, but how many are there.
  6. lucas-sp Senior Member

    English - Californian
    But I think sonsonty wants to use "il y a," which is invariable - unlike "there is/are" in English.

    "Combien d'étudiants y a-t-il..." is possible.
  7. CarlosRapido

    CarlosRapido Senior Member

    Québec - Canada
    français - English (Can)
    Yes it is possible, but it is a departure from the form the OP was inquiring about. Would you say; 'How many students is there?'
  8. lucas-sp Senior Member

    English - Californian
    The original poster isn't asking about either "How many students are there?" or "How many students is there?" The original poster asked about "Combien d'étudiants est-il/sont-il?" and then specified that he wanted to use the impersonal phrase "il est." Now:

    A) The impersonal phrase used for "there are" in French is not "il est" but instead "il y a," which does not vary. It will always be "il y a," regardless of how many things there are. The English "there are..." varies, which is why comparing it to "il y a" is not necessarily helpful.

    and B) Neither "Combien d'étudiants est-il?" nor "Combien d'étudiants sont-ils?" use an impersonal expression. Out of these, the second is correct, but does not correspond to an English "How many students are there?" Instead, it translates "How many students are they?" "Ils" in "ils sont X étudiants dans cette classe-là" doesn't always translate to "There are X students in that class."

    Sonsonty, I think that you're asking an interesting question, but it's not quite clear yet. Maybe you could give a more developed description of what you're asking?
  9. CapnPrep Senior Member

    Actually, il est is a literary equivalent of il y a for saying "there is/are".
    FR: il est / il y a
    FR: Il est des situations
    FR: Il est paraît-il des terres brûlées donnant plus de blé
    il est des absences
    Il est des faits qu'il convient de rappeler quand il le faut
    il est / il y a
    s'il en est
    The first one could in principle involve impersonal il est (corresponding to a declarative sentence like Il est des étudiants qui…), but somehow I doubt that this is what sonsonty had in mind, and I would definitely not recommend using impersonal il est / est-il in this context.
  10. lucas-sp Senior Member

    English - Californian
    I thought about that almost immediately after I posted. But even without considering the literariness of "il est de...", it is an invariant phrase, right? We would never get "Ils sont de..." meaning "There are." That would mean "They are" - in other words, the pronoun would have become a personal pronoun.

    What I wanted to say was that I disagree with Carlos's comparison between an English number-changing "There is/are" and a French phrase like "il y a" or "il est de" that does not change number. If the number changes in French, it's because it corresponds to an English sentence like "That is"/"They are" and not to an impersonal form.

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