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'Un des deux patients atteints du coronavirus en France est décédé. Il s'agit du premier à avoir été hospitalisé.'

From Le Figaro today.  How would one more felicitously put this in French:  'Of the two patients infected by the coronavirus in France, one has died?'


Currently one must imply at least one comma, after 'Un', if not another after 'France'.


Am I being a pedant?

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So, you can indeed turn it round in French (e.g. "Sur les deux patients atteints..., l'un d'entre eux est décédé").

But, I'm not sure it really buys you anything -- I don't see anything wrong with the original.

I'm not sure what you mean by an "implied comma"-- it wouldn't really be possible to actually put a comma after "un", so I don't see how one could be implied (or, in any case, why it would matter unless you for some reason have set yourself the specific goal of reducing the number of "implied commas" in the universe...).

Like the universe reference. 

Instead of the implied comma, I do think there is a mental pause, one that could accommodate either a (mental) comma or a (mental) bracket.

So: 'Un (des deux patients atteints du coronavirus en France) est décédé.'  Which makes awful reading, but does, I think describe what one does (mentally) do when reading the sentence. [Isn't 'des deux patients atteints du coronavirus en France' a subclause to the main, 'Un est décédé.' ?]

So that were one to use the Orwell standard of simplicity could the meaning not be more felicitously rendered:

'Un patient est décédé attait du coronavirus en France.' And then say that he was among the two who had contracted the virus?  The French probably needs work, but you have the idea.


 I don't agree.  [Un des deux patients] is one person: one of the two.  Try it in English:

One of the two patients.  Would you be thinking to off-set the one??

"One, of the two,. . . " ?  No, you wouldn't. 

[One of the two . . .]

[Un des deux]

Both of these sound natural to my ear.

Thnks.  Just proves my original concern - too pedantic.

I suspect that a root-cause analysis might reveal some interference on the part of your English-language expectations regarding punctuation and sentence structure.  (n.b.- I am assuming from various clues that you are a native speaker of English.)

There is a tendency in English toward overuse of the comma, whereas many languages are perfectly fine with long strings of words without a break-- orthographic, mental, or repiratory.  To apply this expectation prescriptively to a different language is part of the fallacy that Neil refers to in his comment.  Furthermore, if your expectation was based on an unwarranted use of a comma, as many English speakers are wont to do, you will find yourself with one fewer legs to stand on.  [I'm picturing a linguistic version of Monty Python's Black Knight :)]

A major reason why many languages, especially Romance languages, employ the comma much less frequently than does English is what I will call here "sentential syllabication".  It's the way that the spoken language treats a sentence as a long phonetic string, irrespective of the written spaces between words.  The speaker "needs" to have a rhythmic CV-CV pattern, and he will modify the sounds at the beginning and/or end of words, or insert pauses in order to link them.  Incidentally, this is usually the last step in an English-speaker's shedding of a foreign accent; and conversely,  it manifests in the foreign accents of those trying to speak English.  Punctuation breaks the syllabication and forces the speaker to begin anew, so it is naturally much less common.

I'm applying my knowledge of languages other than French here, so I may have made some assertions or speculations that are incorrect.

p.s.- Whenever I am accused of being pedantic, I always reply that it is better to be pedantic than wrong.  :)

It does seem to me that you're falling into the Style Guide Writer's Fallacy of (a) assuming a priori that sentences must be processed or modelled in a particular way without any actual evidence for that hypothesis, and then (b) on the basis of that false premise, inventing a non-existent problem. (On the plus side, you're not alone: that has been the modus operandi of Fowler, Grevisse and a multitude of grammarians and style guide writers...)

If I can paraphrase your concern slightly, your issue seems to be that "the subject is not next to the verb", and you've assumed that the sentence is difficult to understand if that's not the case. You also seem to be positing a comma, possibly to accommodate what you see as an 'interspersed' item in the sentence (as, for example, when I just put commas around the item 'for example' in this sentence).

But what is happening is you're "missing a dimension" to your analysis. In realty, the structure is more like this:

  [Un [ des deux patients ... ] ] est décédé.

The phrase 'des deux patients' sits inside an outer phrase which together is still the subject of the sentence rather than things being as linear as you are suggesting. So there's actually no real contradiction of your 'subject-must-be-next-to-verb' criterion of simplicity.

It's not clear that there's anything 'infelicitous' about this structure: on a day-to-day basis, we're used to processing language structures that are far more complex without really thinking about it. Consider sentences such as these:

  (a) "Which car did she think Mary had parked in the garage?"

  (b) "The car she thought Mary had parked in the garage is sitting out in the street."

Now think about how in (a), we effectively have multiple clauses embedded in one another, and the object of a verb in a clause 'several levels' down has been moved out of its place (logically, you could argue it belongs in the place marked '----' in the sentence):

[ Which car [ did she think [ Mary had parked ---- in the garage ] ] ]

Despite this quite complex level of embedding and movement,  we can still understand it just fine. And in (b), we can take all of that moved/embedded structure, and make all of that structure the subject of yet another 'level' of sentence embedding:

[ [ The car [ she thought [ Mary had parked ---- in the garage ] ] ] is sitting in the driveway. ]

But again, despite this complexity, it turns out that we can understand this sentence just fine, and use sentences with this level of complexity on a daily basis without even thinking about it.

One can understand how I may have fallen into a category that irks. I am humbly honoured that you have taken the time to reply so comprehensively. I don’t think that my interest was pricked a priori.

Isn’t it impossible to have an a priori thought? I think it is self-contradictory. Ever since reading Kant – an author I loathe for re-defining over and over again any and all definitions to the point of incomprehension yet garlanded with greatness for his infinite cleverness – has that concept become anathema to me.

But I have always been fascinated by the terse style, which as you see, has already been honoured in the breach, being so comprehensively encased in a far-flung verb.

Lord Denning’s style always fascinates: 


In this part I tell the story of our forefathers - so far as they are

known. When you are young, you are not much interested in

them. You are much more interested in yourself. But when you

are old you want to know more about them. Many of my friends

fill in their retirement by searching for their ancestors.

In some families this is unnecessary. They have records going

back for years. They have their family trees with countless

branches. They take great pride in them. Other families wish to

do likewise. They employ genealogists. They scan the parish

registers. They go through the wills. They look into holes and

corners. They come up against a bastard. That brings them to a

full-stop. Family trees only take root in a marriage bed. But

when you do enough to become famous or notorious or well-

known, everyone becomes interested in you. 'What strange

mixture of blood produced him or her?' Take the Prime

Minister, Margaret Thatcher. She is a grocer's daughter. Or

even me. I am a draper's son. Whence came I?”  Denning (1981)  The family story (London, Butterworths & Co (Publishers) Ltd) 5.


That is what I was after – but alas, as a pedant it seems.


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