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  5. "Comment obtenir ça ?"

"Comment obtenir ça ?"

Translation:How does one obtain that?

October 14, 2013



Seems to me that, 'How do I obtain that', 'How do you obtain that' and 'How does one obtain that' are all equivalent english translations.


- How do I obtain that? <-> Comment j'obtiens cela/ça ?
- How do you obtain that? <-> Comment obtiens-tu cela/ça ?
- How does he obtain that? <-> Comment obtient-il cela/ça ?
- How to obtain that? <-> Comment obtenir cela/ça ?


Thanks. I understand that. My point was that the phrase, 'How to obtain that?' makes no sense in english conversation. So, i treated it as a french idiom and tried to figure out what it would mean. That was the motivation for my comment.

  • 2032

You are correct, shrinkdad. The use of "comment + infinitive" is commonly used to express the notion of "how does one/you/I/we" + verb. While some insist on the literal translation, "How do you obtain that" is correct and natural in English and conveys the sense of the original sentence. In common speech, this combination of "comment" + infinitive is used as such:

  • comment dire = how do you say, how does one say
  • comment écrire ça = how do you write/spell that
  • comment faire = how can it be done, how do you do that

To express this in natural (idiomatic) English, a literal translation may often fall short.


So this leads me to another question. I learned that comment dit-on = how do you say, how does one say. What is the difference between these two constructions? Is one more formal than the other, is one antiquated, or are they both just two slightly different ways of saying essentially the same thing?


Just to clarify: you could say both « Comment dit-on xxx » and « Comment dire xxx » as well as « Comment obtient-on ça » and « Comment obtenir ça ». There are also other different ways you could ask : « Comment on dit xxx? » (incorrect but used very often in an informal way), « Comment dites-vous (les Français) xxx? » (if you were addressing a French person of course).

I find that Comment + Infinitif as it is proposed in this exercise is rarely used orally, at least not in a casual environment, it may be used in a very formal environment.

As mentioned below in another comment (by SuzanneNussbaum), it is used in English titles, and I would tend to say that it would mostly be used in the same manner in French.

You will also find that this construction can be used to "punctuate" (in the sense of punctuation) a conversation, when the speaker expresses the fact that he's not sure of what he is going to say, such as:

C'est une situation qui est, comment dire, très délicate = It is a situation that is - how can I phrase it? - very sensitive.

Note that it is only limited to the two words Comment and then the verb, without any addition. Another usage is when the speaker is giving advice to his listeners, and asks them a question to which he already knows the answer:

Voilà la falaise. Comment grimper? Avec cette corde! = Here is the cliff. How will you climb it? With this rope!

  • 2032

They are just different ways of asking a question. Comment obtenir ça = how do you obtain that. Comment dit-on xxxx = how do you say xxxx.


that was VERY helpful n6ZS thank you.


merci n6zs explication fabuleuse.


Good point! Though it seems common in French to use the infinitive form of the verb like this, it isn't common in English.
There are book titles ("How to Make Money," "How to Clean Silver," etc.), but you'd never say this conversationally.
If you want some information, I think you'd say, "How do I obtain that," "How can I obtain that," "How does someone obtain that," and in all of these possibilities, "get" (or "get hold of") sounds a bit more natural than "obtain."
I haven't even mentioned the use of generic "you," which would also certainly work ("how do you / can you / could you ...").


I want to go I want to speak French I want to buy a new dress.
I want to reach level 30.


But how to do all of that? ;-)

If only XP were dollars, and lingots, pounds...


Suzannenusbaum, "how to make money is always on my mind"

  • 2032

And that is why "how to obtain that", even though it is quite literal, but it is not at all natural/idiomatic. Your suggestions are all the idiomatic equivalent and are accepted.


Oh, if it's really grammatically incorrect in English, report it.


It is correct in the context of being part of a sentence, but not really as a stand alone phrase. We do make considerable use of infinitives in English but it is in learning French that they become so useful. With a bit of ingenuity, they can function in place of unknown tenses! :-)

[deactivated user]

    Agreed. In English an impersonal pronoun would always be used in a question like this - and "we", "you", "I" and "one" can all be used in this context because English doesn't have a specific impersonal pronoun.

    Kind of interesting to me that French actually does have the impersonal pronoun "on" but in an expression like this, doesn't use it!


    Well my guess is that the shortcut « comment + infinitif… » is just a shortening of « comment peut-on + infinitif… », which is also perfectly valid.


    What about 'How can it be obtained?'


    It's Comment cela est-il obtenu., passive form.


    I tried this (well actually using 'that' instead of 'it') and it was rejected. I agree that the English translation isn't the sort of thing someone would say and "How can that be obtained?", "How can I obtain that?" or even "Hows does one obtain that?" would be far, far more likely to be heard.


    Since there's no literal translation in English, that leaves open just about any valid English translation which gets across the question being asked, without going too far afield. Thus:

    "How do I/you/we/ obtain that?" or "How does one obtain that?"

    Probably not "How do they obtain that?


    I used "How does one obtain that?" - marked correct. I'll try a generic "you" next time I get the chance.

    • 2032

    Also accepted.


    How to obtain that? was marked incorrect even though that's precisely the translation given here. (16-jan-16)


    "How to obtain that" Accepted 7 Feb 2018 on PC browser.

    • 2032

    It is an idiomatic expression which is explained in the other comments on this page.


    I think an issue might be that for some questions the mobile app shows a different translation at the top of the discussion page from the one on the regular browser page. (In fact, in my experience, sometimes the mobile app doesn't even provide both languages there.)

    • 2032

    I have heard that the exercises seen on the mobile app do not always align with those used in the website version. I really don't know why that is.


    Hmm, as of 22 jan 16, it doesn't accept " how to obtain that", despite that being the translation given at the top of this page....


    Still incorrect on Feb 20, 2016

    • 2032

    You might assume that "how to obtain that" is a good answer because it is a literal translation. It is accepted, but English speakers do not really say "hmmm, how to obtain that?" The use of "comment" in this way is idiomatic (natural) in French, but the literal translation rather falls flat in English. Whereas the French might say, "comment savoir ça", the English speaker would say "How would (I/you/we) know that?" Sometimes literal translations work fine. In other cases, literal translations sound "off" and unnatural. This is one of the latter.


    I've read the discussion below, but still unconvinced that 'How to get it?' is an unacceptable equivalent...

    • 2032

    Hi, Anna. It's an idiomatic expression in French. "Comment" followed by an infinitive is typically translated with the English expression "how does/can one/we/you/I + verb. So, "comment savoir ça ?" = how can I/we know that? Ex: http://dictionnaire.reverso.net/francais-anglais/comment%20savoir BTW, "how to get it/that/this" is accepted.


    So we've learned that "Comment" followed by an infinitive is (typically) translated with "one/we/you/I" + verb. It would also help if you are to tell us how to translate the English question "How to obtain it?" into French. Thanks


    I went to amazon.fr and looked for Dale Carnegie's book "How to win friends and influence people" it is translated as "Comment se faire des amis et influencer les autres".

    So I think the answer is that there is no different translation but inflection will let you know that this is a question ("How to I get" or "How does one get") or a statement ("How to get").

    Books which start with "Comment obtenir" are plentiful on amazon.fr. Here's another: "Comment obtenir ce que vous voulez". I think as a book title or a statement someone might make when introducing their self help lecture this translates as "How to get what you want", but if I asked someone with a questioning inflection then it should be translated as "How do you get what you want". You can't directly map the two forms on to English syntax.

    • 2032

    That is just what this exercise does. If you mean that somebody should have told you this before you encountered this exercise, it doesn't work that way. You are presented with a sentence and asked to translate it. If you get it wrong (hopefully, only once), you will see what it should be and read the comments to understand why.


    nbzs, before l asked, I did read the comments and I noticed that there were instances where the "how to get / obtain it" french equivalent was not provided and the absence would keep elongating the thread. Pun intended.


    A difficulty some may have with your original question is that it presumes that "How to obtain it?" is a complete and valid interrogative sentence in English.

    I myself certainly agree that it can be (inasmuch as an elliptical sentence can be called complete), but in much more limited circumstances compared to the French, where the phrasing is a common interrogative form. Most often in English it's declarative (e.g. in titles).

    But the answer, as hivemindx says, is that the wording is the same in French, but the oral inflection will vary according to context.


    Thanks, taken on board!


    I consider "how to get it" the best translation, at least in the USA


    I agree with Anna. The literal translation is fairly common in English, especially when giving instructions. For example, a secretary training a new employee says,

    "First you have to obtain a Form D-60. How to obtain that? Simple, just go to the front office...."


    "How to obtain it " should be acceptable because it is a common response to the question... 'so what do you want to know? or as a clarification sentence in English - so do you want to know how to fix it or how to obtain it? Answer - how to obtain it. I have sent this note when I reported it.


    I agree that it's acceptable, as you can see from my other comments here. On the other hand, the objection to your point might be that you haven't used it as a question. But it could be, in your scenario, if you changed it slightly: "So what do you want to know? How to fix it? How to obtain it?"


    Thanks for that, what i meant was that it can be a statement / response NOT a question. But can be a statement in answer to a question. Anyway all very interesting.


    Yes, certainly it can, I agree. I just meant that they've put a question mark after the French sentence, so they're probably going to limit the acceptable translations to questions.


    Achievement Get! You obtained it! Maarriioo!!


    Are these questions natural or common in French?


    I think they are, I've seen them used in written French. A direct translation sounds weird in English though. I think this is really the French equivalent of "How do I get that?"

    • 2032

    Yes, "comment" followed by an infinitive is the natural way to say "how does/can one/you/I/we + verb". Comment savoir ça ? = how can one/we/you/I know that?


    i answered "how to obtain that?" and is not accepted


    The powers that be have apparently decided that the most direct translation "doesn't work" in English. How to convince them otherwise?

    • 2032

    Why do you have to convince anyone? It's not natural/idiomatic English. The expression in French is common in French. But the literal translation to English results in something that sounds foreign to native English speakers. It's interesting that users often complain about translations being too literal, but when a literal translation isn't how English speakers speak, now it's too literal.


    I understand where you're coming from.

    My comment was a tongue-in-cheek but not inconceivable example of the infinitive construction used outside of the context of a title where you'd more often find it.

    While it's admittedly less common outside of titles, it's also not per se unnatural or non-idiomatic. It's all about context.

    I would, however, describe it as elliptical. It leaves out some implied additional words, such as "the question is", or, in a title, "here is".

    One place where there would be clear equivalence in usage is in a list:

    La communication [...] soulève un ensemble de questions telles que (The communication [...] raises a host of questions such as):

    1. Comment obtenir des revenus appropriés et durables pour les universités [...] (How to obtain appropriate and sustainable revenues for universities [...]) ?
    2. [...]

    Another is in a request for clarification:

    A. That's what I'd like to know.
    (C'est ça que je voudrais savoir.)
    B. How to obtain it?
    (Comment obtenir ça?)
    A. Yes.

    On a hunch I did a web search for "But how to get one?" (I included the "but" to try to limit the search to standalone sentences to make the search easier.) A couple of articles and a book where it shows up as a standalone sentence or main clause are:

    I expect you'll agree that these are all writers of native proficiency.

    A search for "but how to get that" called up such sentences as "But how to get that look?", "But how to get that message across?", and "But how to get that pre-yes?", all in native-proficiency body text, not in titles. A further search called up instances of "But how to get it?" as a standalone sentence, again in body text.

    The construction is clearly idiomatic in English, and apparently not exactly rare.


    After reading peacejoy's examples I am not convinced of his point. Context matters, and it is certainly possible to invent a context to use diffetent translations, but the french usage has a common understandable translation that is not based on assuming an unusual context.


    Only one of the examples in the comment you're responding to comes from the mind of PeaceJoyPancakes. The others are all quotes, one from Forbes magazine, so for "invent" perhaps you could substitute "observe".

    But let's be clear. I'm not arguing that the construction is particularly abundant in English conversation, or that its usage mirrors that of the French at all times, just that it's idiomatic (and not foreign-sounding) in circumstances not limited to titles – and also not a rarity.

    Here we have a sentence where context would play a role in the English translation, and I've provided some. That's all. My comments are often along the lines of providing context to show how and when certain constructions do and don't work in English.

    I'm not sure what "point" you're not convinced of, but hopefully when it comes to this discussion thread, some who recognize the construction as idiomatic will find some satisfaction in an exploration of the context.


    As a native English speaker, I'd be curious to know the basis of your claim that the literal translation "sounds foreign to native English speakers."

    I should add that I think the debate here isn't about whether "How to obtain that" is the best translation, but whether it should be included within the range of acceptable translations.

    • 2032

    Included? Fine. Best? No. The comments by shrinkdad and SuzanneNussbaum at the top of the page clearly articulate my own thoughts that the phrase "how to obtain that" is not a stand-alone expression. The use of comment followed by an infinitive, such as "comment obtenir ça" would be expressed as "how do you obtain that". It's not about "you", etc. It is about how one would naturally express it in English without using the awkward literal translation.


    Thank you. Understood.

    In the spirit of discussion, I would just add that there is in English a certain generalized, abstract, philosophical register in which the infinitive does come into play.

    For instance:

    "Happiness without delusion is the greatest good. How to obtain that?"

    Or: "To be, or not to be, that is the question."

    Victor Hugo, in his translation of the play, renders this as:

    "Etre, ou ne pas etre, c'est la la question" [diacritics left out].

    I'd be curious to know if there are other, distinctively different, respected French translations of Hamlet's famous line.


    @MateoNas another translation for "To be, or not to be, that is the question." is « Être ou ne pas être, telle est la question. »

    • 2032

    Of course, such expressions are sometimes appropriate but not commonly used in standard speech. In the area of literature, one may find many phrases that seem out of place in ordinary conversation.


    Another DL exercise asks us to translate, "Comment avoir une belle peau" and gives as the correct translation, "How to have beautiful skin". Would "How does one have beautiful skin" also work?

    • 2032

    @MateoNas In regard to "Comment avoir une belle peau". That's the title of an article in a magazine. Such things appear all the time as teasers on websites to get you to click on it. So how do you think it would be said in natural English in that context?


    Why not "how to obtain that?"?


    That's a correct direct translation, and was at one point the default translation provided by Duo. However, the infinitive construction, which is elliptical, is much more common in book and article titles in English than in other forms of English discourse (though not entirely limited to the former).

    Duo often balks at allowing such elliptical constructions, perhaps not always intentionally, but presumably because it doesn't always have an effective way of dealing with the nuances involved, the contributors are trying to avoid misleading learners about what goes on in one language or another, and many people's rote reaction to minor/irregular sentences is to assume/complain that they're grammatically incorrect.

    In this case, it's reasonable, I think, to have changed the example translation to "how does one obtain that", but your translation should also be allowed.


    Thank you for that helpful explanation! Here's three lingots for it (I have 419 and have no idea what else to do with them.) :-) By the way, great job on your streak!


    Would it be most natural to pronounce the 't' of comment here? For me (English) it seems easier to do so, but I wonder which is more French?


    I'd say that it would be unnatural to pronounce it in informal speech. Other people may tell you otherwise depending on their background or region, and in literate/formal/articulate speech, we would very normally pronounce it.

    Liaisons can be very tricky. For instance, we would definitely always use it in another very similar sentence such as « Comment allez-vous? », even in very relaxed discussions.

    You can have a look at the wikipedia page on the subject: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liaison_(French) this one is not part of the "mandatory" categories so I'd say whether you pronounce it or not is really up to you. :)


    I never heard anyone saying this .

    Maybe : "How does someone get that?" - ????


    More colloquially "how do you get that".


    How does this translate to how do i win this wher does win show up from obtain?

    • 2032

    "Win" is not really "obtenir" (obtain/get). You won't see "win" (gagner) here again.


    Why is 'ca' 'that' on this occasion and not 'it'


    How does one obtain that? Sounds too formal...

    • 2032

    Then try one of the other 60 accepted answers.


    Could this also be "Comment faire obtenir ça"? Just trying to be difficult.


    Interesting question. The examples I can find with Reverso Context and Linguee of "faire obtenir" seem to denote procurement of something for or on behalf of another, which, to my mind, certainly doesn't put the construction out of the question here.


    Thanx. Just seemed to make sense to me.


    The answer is not very good English, 'How do you get that?' would be much better, I feel.

    • 2032

    It is one of 60 accepted answers.


    I agree the sentence is incomplete in English. Even as part of a title you would not use "that". I don't know if DL cares about the direct translation not working in a real world scenario or not but I would hope they do.

    • 2032

    "Ça" may be translated as "that", "it", or "this". Please read the other comment(s) above.

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