je sais pas / j'en sais rien

Discussion in 'French-English Vocabulary / Vocabulaire Français-Anglais' started by maddief24, Jan 22, 2006.

  1. maddief24 Senior Member

    English, Pennsylvania, United States
    Often when I'm watching an English film, I put the subtitles in French to see how they translated different phrases. I find that "I don't know" is translated one of two ways: "je sais pas" ou "j'en sais rien". Is there a subtle difference or can they be used interchangeably?
     
  2. Kelly B

    Kelly B Senior Member

    USA English
    Je ne sais pas (without ne is informal) - I don't know
    Je n'en sais rien - I don't know anything about it (more emphatic)
     
  3. DDT

    DDT Senior Member

    Paris, France
    Italy - Italian
    Erm...let me add that the omission of "ne" (more and more common in spoken French) is a serious mistake in French ;)

    DDT
     
  4. nichec

    nichec Senior Member

    Chinese(Taiwan)/English(AE)


    Oh, I don't know about that. The Parisians skip even the "je" when they talk. So it sounds like "sais pas" with a funny accent. The problem is that if you don't talk like that, people immediately know that you are not a native....And when they say "je n'en sais rien" , they would say something like "j'en sais rien"...

    But I think the difference is that "je n'en sais rien" is a bit stronger than "je ne sais pas"
     
  5. maddief24 Senior Member

    English, Pennsylvania, United States
    Can any native speakers reply to clear this one up for good?
     
  6. petunia Junior Member

    france
    french/france
    here is a native speaker !
    so it's true that "je n'en sais rien " or "j'en sais rien" is a bit stronger than "je (ne) sais pas".

    for example, if someones asks you the same question many times, and you get upset because of that, you may finally burst out saying "mais je n'en/j'en sais rien !" - which would really emphasize the fact that you don't know (and are a bit upset, in that case)

    other suggestion : maybe "je n'en sais rien "/"j'en sais rien" is somehow an equivalent for "i have no idea" - insisting on the fact that you just don't know...
    (you may also say in franch "je n'en ai pas la moindre idée", but it's a higher level of language - if i'm not wrong)

    hope i'm not confusing you !!
    petunia
     
  7. Markus

    Markus Senior Member

    Paris, France
    Canada - English
    Is it really a "mistake", or just how people speak? Who determines these things?
     
  8. DDT

    DDT Senior Member

    Paris, France
    Italy - Italian
    Check the negative form in a grammar and you'll find your answer ;)

    DDT
     
  9. DDT

    DDT Senior Member

    Paris, France
    Italy - Italian
    That doesn't mean that they're speaking correctly... ;)

    DDT
     
  10. Markus

    Markus Senior Member

    Paris, France
    Canada - English
    Well, I know what grammar books teach. And there's definite value in it when it comes to knowing how to speak and communicate in different registers, whether orally or written. And it's good to know the formal language because then you can always communicate and be understood by a French person of any dialect. But when I'm at work and talking with colleagues I rarely use the ne. I don't agree with calling it a "mistake", because I don't think that using non-prescriptive grammar is a mistake if it's what the people around you use. Similarily people in the banlieues are only making "mistakes" to metro Parisians. It's all relative. Maybe we just have differences in terminology.
     
  11. geve

    geve Senior Member

    France, Paris
    France, French
    Yes, there is indeed some variations between spoken and written French, and you'll hear many natives skipping the "ne" in negative sentences. Since we have two words for negation (ne and pas), the meaning still get through.
    But the level of spoken language may vary too, according to the person you're talking to ; you might want to not forget the "ne" with some people... Speaking well a language is also a question of knowing how to adapt according to your audience, I guess !

    Now to get back to the difference between "je sais pas" (or je ne sais pas), and "j'en sais rien" (or je n'en sais rien), I think Petunia provided a good explanation by translating the latter with "I have no idea"
     
  12. DDT

    DDT Senior Member

    Paris, France
    Italy - Italian
    I fully agree, I rarely happen to use "ne" while speaking French - my bad :D - but it is important to point out that these forums are focussed on helping people whose aim is to correctly learn a foreign language, French this case. That's why I chose to stress the fact that to omit "ne" is a mistake ;)

    DDT
     
  13. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    England
    English (England)
    I feel I have to step in to support what Markus is saying here. I'm going to repeat what I wrote in a thread the other day -

    it is very important when people make sweeping comments like "it is not correct" that they specify if it is not correct in the sense that "tu allons à la bureau" is notcorrect or if they really mean that it is used but some people consider it substandard.

    Many of us here are students so certainly it is very important to know what "should not be written" but also it is important to know "what is said" and what is "correct" (whatever that means) in speech too.


    So I support DDT in making the point that the "ne" should be added in writing, but I support Markus in his point that in speech putting the "ne" in is almost incorrect from the point of view that most native speakers don't put it in (and will mark you out as a foreigner with a less than perfect grasp on the spoken language).

    By the way, nichec, your The Parisians skip even the "je" when they talk. So it sounds like "sais pas" with a funny accent is when they just say "sais pas" and it sounds (to my ear like) "chez pas" - similar to "dunno" for "I do not know" in English, I suppose.
     
  14. geve

    geve Senior Member

    France, Paris
    France, French
    You are absolutely right, DDT ! and I'll even add something : il faut connaître les règles, pour pouvoir les contourner...
     
  15. DDT

    DDT Senior Member

    Paris, France
    Italy - Italian
    Let me politely disagree, Tim, about the fact "ne" is almost incorrect in spoken French. As I said I almost never use "ne" while speaking - guess what? most people think I'm French :D :D :D - but I am fully aware of the fact that I am not speaking correctly when doing that. It's a matter of habits. But these forums, which are focussed on languages and culture, basically deal with written languages. IMO it is important to always point out the correct rule first, then there is room for any sort of remark about the spoken language. But it is a fact that in spite of the fact most French people (or foreigners living in France like me, j'assume quoi ! :D ) don't use it while speaking, the "ne" is compulsory in a large part of the negative forms (I say "in a large part" because there are other way to express a negation)
     
  16. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    England
    English (England)
    I don't think we are really disagreeing, it is coming down to terminology. Personally I do not consider the omission of "ne" "incorrect", I consider it correct (or at least a perfectly acceptable option) in colloquial register French.

    In any case it doesn't need to get this complicated - whether it is "correct" or "incorrect" it is undoubtedly true than "ne" is commonly omitted in the speech of many French natives. So when people say something is "incorrect" or "a serious mistake" I would like them to differentiate "je parlons" from "je sais pas". In my opinion they are completely different beasts. One is never said the other commonly said but not recommended for more formal situations. Having black and white terminology as "incorrect" and "mistake" is not helpful in such situations, in my opinion.

    Yes we need to know the rules before we can break them - and I fully applaud you pointing out in the first place that in many situations you need the "ne" (particularly since many people reading here are students who will want to use "ne" in their essays) - but we also need pointing out which are those rules which native speakers do break on certain occasions.
     
  17. Kelly B

    Kelly B Senior Member

    USA English
    It is also important to remember the context of the question, waaaaaay back in post 1. The questioner is reading the French subtitles of movies. Some French-speaking person wrote Je sais pas and j'en sais rien as different translations of the same English phrase "I don't know" in the soundtrack, and maddief24 wanted to know the difference between the two.
    I pointed out in my reply that leaving out the ne is informal. I should have said colloquial; still, I thought that was sufficient, given the aim of the question.
     
  18. nichec

    nichec Senior Member

    Chinese(Taiwan)/English(AE)
    Yes, that's exactly what I mean...(and it sounds the same to my ears:) )

    Oh, I think I should point out that most of the time I talk with young generations, and please understand that as someone who didn't speak a word in French when she first arrived in Paris, I'm probably too eager to fit in....But I did notice a hugh difference when I started talking the way they do...

    I know it's not right in written French, I mean, if I write this in my test, I'll get zero. But I feel better if I skip it when I talk to the French (the Parisian, I should say)...Oh, it's probably plain silly to feel happy when someone tells you that you speak French/English like a French/English, but I guess that matters to a foreigner who's trying very hard to "get there" (I hope I can put a tired smile here):)
     

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