Miss vs manquer: I miss you, tu me manques, il me manque…

Get ready for some brain juggling on the verb “to miss”. The French verb “manquer” expresses lack and insufficiency, that is, something/someone lacking from someone/something, in easier terms, “not (being/having) enough”, while the English “to miss” refers to absence, or lack of presence in general.

Sentence construction is different, direct in English, and indirect in French.

Short version: I miss you becomes Tu me manques, like You are missing to me (bad English, don’t say this). Invert by putting what you miss first, then, figure out the rest by asking « WHO or WHAT misses X ? »

I miss chocolate – invert chocolate and choose me, te, lui, nous, leur to say who is miserably missing the chocolate – Le chocolat me manque. [Who misses chocolate ? I do.]

They miss chocolate – invert chocolate and add leur – Le chocolat leur manque. [Who misses chocolate ? They do.]

Karin misses chocolate – when the answer to Who misses chocolate is not a pronoun, use à… Le chocolat manque à Karin

Long version:

In English, someone misses someone/something: I miss you. They miss her. Grammatically speaking, I as subject miss you the direct object.

In French: 1) the subject is what is being missed, what is absent or insufficient. 2) The subject is missing from something/someone.

  • Tu me manques – I miss you : me (indirect object pronoun) replaces an unsaid à moi. A moi means in this case, that I am suffering from your absence. Tu is what is being missed. In other words, you are missing from me; as a result, I am suffering from your lack of presence.
  • Je leur manque – They miss me. 
  • Mes amis me manquent – I miss my friends.
  • Son pays lui manque – She misses her home country.

Aware French speakers will forgive a Je t’ai manqué!=You missed me, didn’t YOU!, for a Tu m’as manqué!


However, conveying meaning in other contexts may be more complex:

Il (me) manque du pain – I need bread, technically speaking, bread is missing (from my house), there just isn’t any.

Le pain me manque is what you might say if you move to a country that doesn’t have the fantastic bakeries you’ll easily find in France and Switzerland. You’re missing French bread.

Il me manque… an impersonal third person, and not a man… is useful in contexts with strings of information or lists. Let’s say you have already ordered several vegetables at the market and the salesperson asks, “Ca sera tout?” (Will that be all), do reply, “Non, il me manque des carottes et de la salade.” That means that a couple of items on your shopping list are missing from your order.

Il me manque 3 mètres de parquet means and conveys I haven’t got (I am missing) 3 yards of floorboards and would like to buy enough to cover that area.

Il lui manque une case means someone has a screw loose, is nuts, with abnormal or crazy behavior.

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