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I’ll never forget a moment early on in my relationship with the man who would become my husband. I hadn’t seen him in a couple of days and so I thought I would sweetly (and honestly) tell him that I had missed him. “Je t’ai manqué,” I told him and then nervously waited for his response. Instead of hearing him say the same thing back to me, however, confusion registered on his face. “Tu m’as manqué?” he asked. This wasn’t going as well as I had hoped. And it would take what seemed like an interminable amount of time (probably more like several minutes) to figure out what we were saying to one another.
The problem is that I had WANTED to tell him that I missed him, but had instead told him that he had missed me. This is because the French verb manquer follows a different construction in French. Je te manque or je t’ai manqué literally translates as “you miss me,” and “you missed me,” respectively. My poor husband was wondering what he had missed and why I was telling him this.
Manquer is one of the most difficult verbs for beginner French learners to use. You have to flip the construction of the sentence in order to achieve the meaning in English. If you would like to say “I miss you,” then, the translation is tu me manques, which can be somewhat confusing to English speakers because the tu (you) comes first in the sentence. However, there is a reason for this seemingly confusing sentence structure. In French, the verb manquer is not indicating who is missing whom, but rather indicates who is missing. Thus, the meaning of tu me manques in French is actually something like “you are missing to me.” (To be more technical about this, manquer is actually manquer à quelq’un/quelque chose; thus it is intransitive in the above example. An intransitive verb does not use or need a direct object, while a transitive verb can use a direct object.)
While it is incorrect to use the transitive form of manquer in this example (je manque à toi is incorrect), you can use the transitive form of manquer when you are not using only first or second pronouns. Thus, it is correct to say tu manque à ton père (literally, “you are missed by your father” or “your father misses you”). This direct object clarifies the meaning of this sentence for non-native French speakers.
Have you ever used the verb manquer to say something you didn’t mean? Leave your stories in the comments below!