4

(Personal Background: I am a native speaker of English. As I have been learning French these past three months, I have been learning a lot about English grammar!)

In French, there is no grammar construction that matches the grammar construction used in the English sentence "Do you want me to speak French?". (But there is a French sentence that matches "Do you want to speak French?"). In order to say this sentence in French, you have to say "Do you want that I speak French?" (Note: That sentence, "Do you want that I speak French?", sounds very strange to my native ears. I say this because I don't want to give an incorrect idea to any English learners on this site.).

I am curious to know the grammar constructions used in this sentence. For example, what kind of word, grammatically, is "me" in this sentence? Is this sentence grammatically the same as "Do you want an apple?", or is the noun phrase "an apple" different than "me to speak French" (it certainly does seem different! "me to speak French" certainly doesn't sound like a noun!). If it is different, then what construction is being used?

6

What’s happening here in English is that you have an infinitive clause serving as a noun phrase. Since it is acting a noun phrase, it can be used anywhere a noun can be used, including as the object of a verb, as the subject of a sentence, as the object of preposition, or (nearly) anywhere else a noun is called for.

This happens all the time.

  • I want to say something in French.
  • To speak French is to love it.
  • It’s easy to speak French.

In those examples, the infinitive clause has no expressed subject. What’s happening in your case, however, is that the infinitive clause has its own distinct subject.

  • I want Pierre to speak French.
  • It’s easy for Pierre to speak French.

In English, the subject of non-finite verb clauses takes the object case when a pronoun is involved.

  • I want him to say something in French.
  • Pierre wants me to say something in French.
  • It’s easy for him to speak French.

What you have stumbled upon here is that in most Romance languages, including not just French but also Spanish, Italian, and dozens of others, infinitive clauses cannot take an expressed subject. Instead, you need to make a tensed subordinate clause starting with that. When you do this in Romance, the subject is again in the subject case when it’s a pronoun, unlike the object case used for non-finite subjects in English.

Compare these:

  • I want him to say something in French.
  • Je veux qu’il dise quelque chose en français. (French translation)
  • Quiero que él diga alguna cosa en francés. (Spanish translation)
  • Quero que ele diga alguma coisa em francês. (Portuguese translation)

Since you are studying French, you will need to get used to making tensed subordinate clauses whenever you would in English have an infinitive clause with a subject. Just to make it even more fun for you, these tensed subordinate clauses are often in the subjunctive mood, as shown above.

If, however, you were instead studying Portuguese, Galician, or Sardinian, then you would be allowed to used an infinitive clause with an expressed subject, provided it were not following a that, like when it’s the object of a preposition. Known as the personal infinitive, this peculiar construction has an infinitive that’s actually inflected for number and person (but of course not for tense or mood), and it takes subject pronouns not object pronouns the way it does in English. This makes it more convenient for English speakers first learning those languages.

But since you’re studying French not Portuguese, you don’t get to use that nifty construction, and so it’s necessary that you should become accustomed to saying things like this — rather than for you to be become accustomed to saying things like this. 😝

  • wow, what a thorough answer, which not only gives me leads to understanding my own English language better, but also puts it into a context of other languages -- and helping me get used to the constructions I need in French. Thanks so, so much for taking the time to write this out!! – silph Oct 23 '15 at 15:46
1

me is a pronoun. It's the object of the sentence and is the accusative form of "I".

[Do]                      [you]          [want] [me]             [to speak]        [French]?
[Auxiliary interrogative] [noun-subject] [verb] [pronoun-object] [verb-infinitive] [noun]

[Do]                      [you]          [want] [an]         [apple]       [to take]         [home]?
[Auxiliary interrogative] [noun-subject] [verb] [i. article] [noun-object] [verb-infinitive] [noun]

You're correct that [me to speak French] isn't a noun, it's a dependent clause, used to add more information to the sentence.

In this case it restricts what you are providing, instead of offering all of "me", you're offering your ability to speak French.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.