three points to help understand the structure of this sentence:
the verb mettre can mean: to put, to put on, to wear, to take
Nous mettons nos chaussures - We put on our shoes
elle a mis huit heures - It took eight hours
Guidelines for choosing à or de in the following construct:
adjective / noun + preposition + infinitive
Consider the following English sentence : It is difficult to eat.
This sentence is ambiguous since it could have a number of meanings, such as:
• the act of eating is difficult (because I have a sore throat)
• the lobster that I am eating is difficult to eat
In French this ambiguity is removed by using de and à.
Generally, when the subject is a dummy subject you need the preposition de and when the subject is concrete you need the preposition à
Il est important d'étudier. - It is important to study (the word it acts as a dummy subject)
il est bon d'exercer - it is good to exercise (the word it acts as a dummy subject)
Il est difficile de manger parce que j'ai mal à la gorge - it is difficult to eat because I have a sore throat the word it acts as a dummy subject
le homard est difficile à manger - the lobster is difficult to eat
the masculine word temps is uncountable and the partitive article for a masculine noun beginning with a consonant is du
Thanks Nicholas_ashley for this detailed explanation which I have written down to remember and have given you a lingot. I did not quite get what you meant by "it" acting as a dummy subject. Is it because it is not required or because it is a general idea which i take it to mean in the examples you gave. And I take it that "le homard est difficile a manger" (forgive my lack of accent), is a concrete sentence, as you did not indicate this in your post. Thanks once again for your explanation!
Yes your understanding is correct. Here is a more detailed explanation for what is meant by a dummy statement
Subject pronouns usually replace a noun, as in I bought a car. It's green.
In the second sentence, the word it is replacing the word car from the first sentence, which makes the word it a real subject.
In contrast, the word it in a sentence like it's raining is not referring to or replacing a person, place, or thing. Both English and French need subjects for their verbs, but sometimes, as with impersonal verbs and expressions, there isn't a real subject.
Therefore, dummy pronouns ("it" in English and il in French) provide a subject for those verbs:
Il fait chaud. - It's hot.
Il est facile de le trouver. - It is easy to find
Il est difficile de parler - It is hard to speak
Il est difficile de dire ce mot - It is difficult to say this word
I don't fully understand the French, but in English the two sentences 'I took some time to ...' 'I put in the time to ...' have different connotations. In the latter case you deliberately put in the time, while the former can mean that you were forced to. My guess is that 'mis du temps à' just means 'took some time to', rather than the literal word-by-word translation.
n6zs, I have read the discussion but what I can't understand is the past participle "mis" of "mettre", which ends in "re" and should have a "u" replacing the "re".
There are a number of other verbs where the past participles do not follow the rules about their ending.
Are these exceptions?
I feel like Duolingo is good for learning basic French vocab but its absolutely useless as a learning tool for conversational French. The whole approach of learning french by translating to english is probably futile. that's why we are left frustrated at making the kinds of translation errors that are graded by dl as incorrect. at the end of the day DL simply tells us we were wrong but then it doesn't teach us how to correctly apply grammar rules, etc., since its only job is to make us translate better but not necessarily help us improve our french.
We are trying to learn a natural language and no online program, no offline 'rl' teacher and no classroom can ever offer you everything you need in order to truely master a natural language.
As far as online programs go, I really believe duolingo is one of the best despite many little flaws it may have, and which also get on my nerves sometimes ;) .
Given what is technically possible and practically feasible, I think they do a great job in tackling one of the biggest challenges for foreign language learners, consistency (gamification), and in balancing out some of the limitations by offering various options for interaction with fellow students and native speakers. For an automatic tool it is extremely hard, if at this point in time not impossible, to cover all of the diversity and nuances of natural language, and it would not be realistic to expect it to be able to.
Calling Sitesurf- she is great at explaining things. She gave me my first Aha! moment long ago that French does not equal English. Meaning one can't translate one into the other on a word for word basis. My ignorance, but so far on Duo, I've only seen mettre used as "put' or "placed" not 'took'. I'm not challenging the English interpretation, just trying to understand French usage of mettre, and this particular sentence. Baffled, maybe b/c of my own ignorance.
Oh dear, given tehwilsonator's comments about mettre, which are very helpful, I probably shouldn't even be bothering you, but your view would be useful imho.
Thanks for answering. You are a trusted source for me.
Your response came up for me b/c I'd marked "follow the discussion" long ago. At this point, I don't remember what section it was in.
And, tehwilsonator's comments also help remember this idiom.
After I retired at age 64 as a bio. prof (I had to bail out of academia to save my sanity), by total serendipity (having no plans for after-retirement), it came to me that I wanted to become fluent in French! Hah! I was quickly but kindly disabused of this goal by American friends who lived in France for 8 years. With the caveat- unless you can go live in France for a few years.
However far I get on this journey, I've enjoyed every minute of it. Well, yeah that's hyperbole, but still...
If you're looking for a logically laid-out path that fits mettre nicely into a translation, you're probably out of luck (there might be someone with some good knowledge of French etymology who could work something out). Language isn't that neatly put-together. You should consider "mettre [time construction] à faire [action]" as a phrase that, put together, means "to take [some amount of time] for [something] to happen". Note that "mettre" more literally translates to "put", so this is more like "to put [some time construction] to do [something]". That's nonsensical in English without "in", but that's probably a good way to remember it--"I put [some amount of time] into doing [something]".
Note the various translations of mettre here, and specifically, the "mettre du temps à faire qch" entry 16 in: http://dictionary.reverso.net/french-english/mettre
Oh, and more specifically regarding your question: It's not "I took" because that would be "j'ai pris" (that is, with prendre, rather than mettre), or "j'ai amené" (in the specific case of taking something with you)
"J'ai mis du temps à comprendre" can be explained as follows:
[J'ai mis du temps] = I put in some time / I invested some time
[à comprendre] = to be able to understand / so as to understand
You can also express the same idea with "comprendre m'a pris du temps", which better resembles the English translation:
[comprendre] = understanding
[m'a pris du temps] = took me (some) time
Another pair of variants, still with the same meaning:
It took me time to understand = Cela m'a pris du temps pour comprendre.
All in all, what you have to remember is that the fixed expression "mettre du temps à + infinitive" literally means "to put/invest time in doing something".