"Sa femme, il l'avait appelée."

Translation:His wife, he had called her.

January 14, 2013

This discussion is locked.


This sentence, I don't like it. English, it is not. Yoda, he has written it.


It's not just that English doesn't allow this sort of repetition--we beat it out of children in elementary school. (Or at least they did when I was a kid.)

Duo needs to accept "He had called his wife" for this. There is no other way to translate it. (Reported 22-Jan-2015) (corrected)


I completely agree!!


If you happen to listen to French speakers, you will probably notice that they use this emphatic construction very often.

Duo translates it directly to English for you to pay attention to this "extraction" of the direct object to enhance its importance in the speaker's mind.

Get used to it and you'll be fluent in no time! ;-)

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The English translation ("His wife, he had called her") is terribly clunky and sounds foreign. The proper translation would be "He had called his wife." I wouldn't say that the direct translation shouldn't be accepted, because these exercises are for learners, but it certainly shouldn't be the preferred, let alone the only, translation accepted.


If we don't use the "awkward" English translation in "Best", the reverse exercise will never point to the original French sentence, which it (mechanically) has to. This is one of the limits of a binary system, but I'm sure that with current progress in AI, Duo might improve the system anytime soon! ;-)

The good side of it all is that this idiomatic construction gives a lot to discuss, which may in turn ease memorization.


The translating system is not good, but it can work to an extent if you ensure that the,structures in both languages are kept more or less intact. I take your point about the literal or 'clunky' word by word translation being needed for clarification of the learning focus, in a system with no context, but there must be a way of keeping it on the side as it were rather than insisting on it or you lose points. That's harsh, and the learning outcomes are going to be worse than if you used GOOD ENGLISH PROMPTS for the reverse translation.


@penny776032 We recognize that it is frustrating but as Sitesurf points out, our hands are tied when it comes to presenting a structure which is very common in French but when translating to English, it leaves us with only two choices: 1) a literal but clunky English translation which--however clunky it may be--will allow us to back-translate to the original (useful) French construct, 2) a natural English sentence which would be extremely unlikely to be translated back to the French construct being presented. The result of the first is horribly awkward English. The result of the second is the missed learning for a useful French construct. Find a better way to do it and start your own free on-line language course.


Does this mean "he had called his wife", or he'd previously called her his wife, even though she wasn't? I translated word for word successfully without really understanding.


He had called his wife


I hope sitesutf takes note of your post. It is a great example of what I was talking about. above. I'm leaving. The only good thing about this system is the creative exercises in the clubs. You can't learn a language this way it's only for revising one you know already. Fluency is a very long way away.


Sitesurf (who is a gracious volunteer tirelessly helping French language learners, and not an agent of Duolingo, Inc.) has already answered this in these comments:

Here's DiazJulien's take:


Hi, PJP. As much as I loathe such awkward English translations, I do understand (and tolerate) the use of it here. We have a French grammatical construct which just doesn't translate literally. If we do, it sounds like horrible English (because it is). If we don't, we will never grasp the (to the native English speaker) unusual French emphatic construction. Personally, I find it is quite a challenge for Duolingo to tackle this type of thing because it is almost certainly to be condemned from both sides of the translation. It demonstrates clearly that learning French (on Duolingo) is not for the faint-hearted.


Is there an audible difference between this and >Sa femme, ils l'avaient appelé``


No audible difference, but because "sa femme" is a feminine direct object that comes before the verb in this sentence, the verb needs to take a feminine ending (the extra e).


Sa femme, ils l'avaient appelée: the past participle still has to agree.


is appele not in agreement with il?


No, here it's with "elle" that "appeler" agrees with.

To understand why, you need to know how "participe passé" works in French.

Here is a link that can help you :


(there are two pages of this course, this is the second one, you'll find what you're looking for in this exercise at the section "Avoir verbs:". )

I suggest that you read the course from page 1, and also those two :

http://french.about.com/od/grammar/a/pastparticiple.htm (on past participle)

http://french.about.com/od/grammar/a/etreverbs.htm (on auxiliary verbs)

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Someone has pointed out that there is another possible interpretation of the English sentence here.

"His wife, he had called her" is very odd if it means "He had called his wife". (A very convoluted and unlikely situation might produce that sentence, but basically it's ridiculous.)

But it could mean "He had called her his wife" (i.e., He used that title for her, even though they weren't married). The structure is a little old-fashioned, but it is not impossible.

However, I really don't think that is what the French sentence means. I think that in that case, you'd have to say something like, "Sa femme, il l'avait appelée comme ça." Can anybody enlighten us here?


Actually, in this case we would say "il l'avait appelée sa femme"

The difficulty is that this sentence is also odd in french. It has probably be written like this only to stress than you have to write "ée" when the feminine object is before the verb.

This kind of structure could be used in a list :

Il pensa à sa famille: sa femme, il l'avait appelé; ses parents, il leur avait envoyé un message, sa soeur, il lui avait écrit une lettre..

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Merci beaucoup.


I wrote ça instead of sa for the listening exercise and was marked wrong. How can I tell the difference between these two words?


Thanks to the context. "Ça" is not an article, so it cannot be placed before a noun.


Back translation can give you the explanation: "that thing woman, he had called her".

"ça" is contracted from "cela" which translates to "that thing". It is a demonstrative pronoun.

"sa femme" = his wife, where "sa" is a possessive adjective = his/her/its


The translation is not acceptable in English How do you report it


You are learning a very common French grammatical construction (the double object or "emphasis by extraction").

Since it does not exist in English, we have to show the literal translation which will help you remember the way to say it in French.

Otherwise, if and when you have to back-translate the English sentence into French again, you cannot guess that the object has to be extracted from the sentence, followed by a comma, then repeated in the form of a pronoun.

The same applies to the double subject:

  • Sa femme, elle l'avait appelé = lit. his wife, she had called him.


What I learned on this sentence was don't be lazy on typing accents. It marked me wrong for typing "appelee"


When I first learned of this kind of construction back in grade 8, I was incredulous, but not so much as I am now that Duo could think that this kind of construction might be something acceptable in English. Allowing a "pass" for the literal translation is one thing. To actually post it as the "correct" answer is something else. Again, these pages are populated by people learning English from French too, and it is irresponsible to be posting this English construction. It is not acceptable English.


Duolingo needs this awkward English translation for you to correctly translate it back when you get the reverse exercise.


No it doesn't. Just don't allow the contracted French sentence and people will learn. We won't learn French off of crappy English. When possible it is nice when the French construction does match the English, but here it doesn't work because it is not an English sentence. And don't worry about us remembering it, because it is so strange to the English ear that I still remember the lesson 50 years later


Considering that you want the emphatic translation, remember what I said about the bitten sentence. Try "He called. He called his wife."


Sitesurf seems to want a translation to the emphatic. Your suggestion doesn't do it. And the "correct" answer does English not.


It seems as though you're thinking of "emphatic" as "forceful", but I've usually understood it in this context to mean "having an expressed focus that the simpler version of the sentence doesn't have".

I take the French mostly just to be "emphasizing" that the relevant pronoun denotes the wife, i.e. stressing the identity of the relevant person.


I don't want an emphatic translation, the system does.

Both "he had called his wife" and "he had called her, his wife" are accepted but the main translation must be what it is so that you can remember how to phrase the French emphatic sentence when you get the reverse translation exercise.


With "had" in each, I presume. (At first I'd missed this as well in my latest comments.)


Bien sûr, excusez-moi !


I'm not too fussed about this sentence, as I think it's fine within the limits of the Duolingo platform, but if I were to make the English a little more natural, I'd be more inclined to go with "he had called her, his wife". Your alternative suggestion has a different emphasis, and to my mind wouldn't evoke the French target sentence.


How about 'He called his wife. Really!' If I'm wrong it just shows that I haven't been able to glean anything from the material provided.


The discussion is part of the learning...

On further consideration, it occurs to me that we can think of this sentence as having a "topic-comment" structure (which is common in Chinese).

The topic is "sa femme", and the comment is "il l'avait appelée".

In other words, "I want to say something about his wife, and what I want to say is that he had called her."

As for your suggestion of "Really!", I'll repeat my response to AllanManch above:

It seems as though you're thinking of "emphatic" as "forceful", but I've usually understood it in this context to mean "having an expressed focus that the simpler version of the sentence doesn't have". [In other words, it emphasizes something that isn't emphasized in the simpler version.]

I take the French mostly just to be "emphasizing" [...] the identity of the relevant person.

It's a challenge to translate this kind of sentence because the structure is less common in English and the sense might not come across if the structure is changed. However, I think we can pretty easily imagine it as part of a halting statement where the first sentence trails off: "His wife... He had called her."

The punctuation could vary among a few different options, e.g. an ellipsis, a dash, or a comma.

I don't think we'd really bat an eye if we heard this spoken. It just looks strange in writing because it's not a smooth sentence.


O.K. I have read all of the somewhat combative and interesting thread so now I will somewhat nervously ask what I fear to be an overly simple question. How do I know when the word Appelee should end with single E and when with a double EE...


For the passé composé and the plus-que-parfait, when the direct object of the verb precedes the verb participle in the sentence, there is an accord between them:

  • "Il avait appelé sa femme." He had called his wife. The direct object, "sa femme", is feminine, but it comes after the participle "appelé", so there's no accord.

  • "Il l'avait appelée." He had called her. The direct object, "la" (represented here by "l'") is feminine, and it comes before the participle "appelée", so there's an accord.


I understand and accept the construction. What about pronunciation...is there a difference between "il avait appelée" and "il l'avait appelée?" That l' seems to get very camouflaged in the l that precedes it.


The speaker's tongue should remain a bit longer stuck on their palate to stress the successive L-L sounds.

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