FR: It must have disappeared

Discussion in 'French and English Grammar / Grammaire française et anglaise' started by Ti Bateau, Jul 17, 2013.

  1. Ti Bateau Senior Member

    If I am referring to something that happened in the distant past, such as something which mysteriously disappeared in the 16th century, would I say, in French:

    "Il a dû avoir disparu" (It must have disappeared)?

    My research has found 'devoir' conjugated in the present "Il doit avoir disparu", which does not make sense (to me) for something in the past?

    Merci d'avance.
  2. Enquiring Mind

    Enquiring Mind Senior Member

    UK/Česká republika
    English - the Queen's
    Hello BTB.
    Il a dû oublier ses lunettes - he must have forgotten his glasses
    Il a dû rater le train - he must have missed the train ("had to" [obligation] also possible, I suppose)
    Il a dû disparaître - it/he must have disappeared [probability](or had to disappear [obligation])
    Il a dû avoir disparu - it must have have disappeared :cross::eek:
    Il doit avoir disparu - it/he must have disappeared (or it should have disappeared)

    (... as always, according to context.)
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2013
  3. Ti Bateau Senior Member

    So how would you say:

    He had to disappear/eat/forget/miss - Il a dû disparaître/manger/oublier/rater??????

    I am a little confused!
  4. Enquiring Mind

    Enquiring Mind Senior Member

    UK/Česká republika
    English - the Queen's
    Yes, indeed. The problem is that in French "devoir", among other meanings, means both "must" in the sense of obligation (or "have to"), and "must" in the sense of probability, and this carries through into the past tense too. The sense would only be clear from the context.

    "À la suite d'une campagne de dénigrement organisée par la gauche, M. Buttiglione a dû disparaître pour avoir exprimé des opinions qui sont soi-disant politiquement incorrectes."
    Following a hate campaign from the Left, Mr Buttiglione had to disappear for having expressed ....

    Le village de La Chèze a dû disparaître à la révolution ou peu après. The village of La Chèze must have disappeared in the revolution ....

    Voir 'Probability' ici p145 (Comparative Stylistics of French and English, Jean-Paul Vinay, Jean Darbelnet, John Benjamins BV 1995).
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2013
  5. Ti Bateau Senior Member

    TY. I have also found that the future perfect of a verb can mean 'must have + past participle':

    Il aura disparu - It must have disappeared
    Il aura oublié - He must have forgotten

    The confusing thing is that when I googled 'a dû avoir fait' I found over 3 million references - are these all incorrect????
  6. Enquiring Mind

    Enquiring Mind Senior Member

    UK/Česká republika
    English - the Queen's
    Hello again BTB. At the risk of being guillotined by our helpful (and much wiser than me) native French speakers, I will put my head on the block and say that il a dû + perfect infinitive (e.g. il a dû avoir disparu, il a dû avoir fait, etc.) is not standard acceptable French, for the eye-popping reason explained in #2.

    The Google search does, indeed, seem to throw up over 3 million hits, but if you then go into the pages (in which it has omitted all the apparent repeats of existing entries), that dwindles to a paltry 18, which all seem to have been written by non-native speakers or by people whose grasp of French laisse à désirer, or qui auront fait une erreur (yes, you are right about the future perfect).

    Let's express the same idea without using the modal verb "devoir", replacing il a dû by il a certainement (maybe less elegant in French, but possible):

    Il a certainement disparu: it/he must have disappeared (it most probably disappeared).
    Il a certainement avoir disparu :cross:
    Il a certainement fait une erreur: he must have made a mistake (he most probably made a mistake)
    Il a certainement avoir fait une erreur :cross:

    (Yep, it's those modal verbs again, which are, however, less difficult in French than they are in English, if that's any consolation.)
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2013
  7. Oddmania

    Oddmania Senior Member


    In addition to Enquiring Mind's perfect explainations, here's my two cents:

    • As a sentence like I must do X translates as Je dois faire X, in order to translate I must've done X all you need to do is put the verb devoir in a past tense. It can be either the Passé Composé tense (J'ai dû faire X) or the Imparfait tense (Je devais faire X) depending on the context, but the Passé Composé is a better bet.
    • A literal translation (I must have done → Je dois avoir fait) is also possible, but be careful: first, a sentence like J'ai dû faire can be either a hypothesis (as in You must be Thomas!) or an obligation (as in I must go). On the other hand, a literal translation like Je dois avoir fait can only be a hypothesis. Secondly, that literal pattern doesn't work to translate other structures like I should have done or I could have done. You could actually translate them literally as well (Je devrais avoir fait, Je pourrais avoir fait), but these would have a different meaning than their regular translations (which require the Past Conditional, for that matter : J'aurais dû faire, J'aurais pû faire).
    • The Future Perfect can indeed be used to express a past hypothesis, but it's not very common. You could say A tous les coups, il aura oublié! (He's bound to have forgotten), but don't push it further. You know, much like the way the auxiliary will can express willpower in English. You can perfectly say Sure, I will or The door won't open, but the auxiliary will just can't replace the verb to want. Saying I'll have a dance with you to mean actually I would like to have a dance with you would probably sound very strange, wouldn't it? The same thing goes for French. Saying Zut! J'aurai oublié mes clés chez moi! instead of J'ai dû oublier mes clés would be extremely awkward.
    Hope it helps! :)
  8. Ti Bateau Senior Member

    Thank you Oddmania & Enquiring mind - I always like to have a mother tongue explanation in addition to an educated point of view!
    I now feel a lot more confident about the verb 'devoir', & hope that the context of future examples will indicate the meaning as clearly as your explanations!

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