FR: ne … rien - place de la négation

Discussion in 'French and English Grammar / Grammaire française et anglaise' started by bjankovic, Jul 5, 2008.

  1. bjankovic Member

    Toronto, Canada
    In a negative expression formed using a compund tense or dual-verb construction, is "rien" placed after the first conjugated verb or after the infinitive verb?

    For example:
    (1) Il n'a rien mangé. OR (2) Il n'a mangé rien.
  2. Donaldos

    Donaldos Senior Member

    French - France
    After the auxiliary, just like pas and many other similar words.

    Je n'ai pas mangé.
    Je n'ai rien mangé.
    Je n'ai plus mangé.
    Je n'ai jamais mangé.

  3. tilt

    tilt Senior Member

    Nord-Isère, France
    French French
    Rien works exactly like pas or other negative words associated with ne (plus, jamais, etc.):
    - Présent : Il ne mange rien.
    - Passé composé : Il n'a rien mangé.
    - Impératif présent : Ne mange rien !
    - Impératif inifinitif : Ne rien manger !
  4. aircraft New Member

    I am confused by the word order of "ne rien comprendre à ..", and "ne comprendre rien à ...", which word order is correct? or both?

    And with the presence of "y", it seems "n'y comprendre rien à ..." is the correct form. Can we say "ne rien y comprendre à ..."?

    thanks a lot!
  5. lucas-sp Senior Member

    English - Californian
    Are you asking about negation with infinitives? Because there isn't really a special case here. In the non-conjugated form, the negation goes before the infinitive:

    ne pas avoir de temps
    ne rien comprendre à ce point de vue

    In conjugated forms, then the negating adverbs go around the verb:

    Je n'ai pas de temps.
    Je ne comprends rien à ce point de vue.

    The "y" replaces the "à + X" phrase, so it's rare that you'll have both of them.
  6. CapnPrep Senior Member

    Both are correct, but you should stick with the first one, as lucas-sp indicated. Putting rien after the infinitive is possible in literary French, or if rien is followed by a complement (which may be the case in your example), but a non-native speaker who uses this order will probably just be considered wrong.

    Again, it's better to put rien before the infinitive, and ne rien y comprendre is correct. N'y rien comprendre is also possible, but only in literary style.

    See also the following threads:
    FR: n'y rien comprendre
    c'est à n'y rien comprendre
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2012
  7. aircraft New Member

    merci lucas-sp et CapnPrep.

    I intended to start a new thread for my question. I do not know that the negation goes before the infinitive and after the conjugated form at that time). However, I don't know why, my threads goes here and this thread is just relevant to my question:)

    Now, thanks for your help, I think for standard French, the following phrases are better:
    "ne rien comprendre à .." --- For infinitive. This is the better form, no the only one, cause put 'rien' after the infinitive is also possible.
    "ne rien y comprendre à .." --- For infitive with "y". The better but not the only form, cause "n'y rien comprendre" is also possible.
    'ne comprends rien à...' --- For conjugated form, the only correct form.
    'n'y comprends rien à...' --- For conjugated form with 'y'. the only correct form.
  8. Alsewa New Member

    allemand - Allemagne

    I have looked through all my grammar books and searched the internet but I wasn't able to find out which word order is correct: "Je n'ai rien pu faire" or "Je n'ai pu rien faire"?
    I recall that there is something special about negative sentences including modal auxiliaries such as pouvoir, vouloir, devoir, savoir but I have forgotten the details. Thanks for your help.
  9. lauramaitland Member

    Je n'ai rien envie de faire. or is it Je n'ai envie de rien faire.
  10. Maître Capello

    Maître Capello Mod et ratures

    Suisse romande
    French – Switzerland
    Your first suggestion is fine, but the second one sounds odd because the two parts of the negation (ne and rien) seem to modify different verbs (avoir and faire, respectively).

    Je n'ai rien envie de faire. = I don't feel like doing anything.

    There is however an alternative solution:

    J'ai envie de ne rien faire. = I feel like doing nothing.

    Anyway, if the complement of envie de is not an infinitive but a noun or pronoun, you would say:

    Je n'ai envie de rien. = I don't fancy anything.

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