FR: "ne" without "pas" - "ne" explétif / "ne" littéraire

Discussion in 'French and English Grammar / Grammaire française et anglaise' started by greens628, Jun 20, 2006.

  1. greens628 New Member

    English, USA
    I have come across the use of 'ne' without any other word to complete the negation (like pas, plus, rien, jamais, etc) and i was wondering what it means. I vaguely remember reading somewhere, perhaps years ago, that it can be used for formal writing and it does not negate the sentence, but I am not sure. Any help would be appreciated.
    Merci beaucoup!!

    'il ne saurait exiger la communication d'un projet de status...'
    It is in reference to the formation of a french corporation.

    Moderator note: Multiple threads merged to create this one. See also:
    FR: plus que + (ne) (le) - "ne" explétif & pronom
    FR: avant que (ne) - "ne" explétif après les conjonctions suivies du subjonctif
    FR: savoir, pouvoir, oser, cesser - "ne" without "pas" in negative
    FR: "pas" without "ne" - omitting "ne" in casual negation
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 31, 2014
  2. panzemeyer

    panzemeyer Senior Member

    France / French
    It has exactly the same meaning as "ne saurait pas".

    "Ne saurait _" is a formal, idiomatic expression that you may translate to "cannot".
  3. flobel

    flobel Senior Member

    France, Mulhouse
    France - français
    I add that we never use 'pas' with 'savoir' in this kind of sentence, where the meaning is that the personn can't do the what come after "saurait" (here, "exiger").

    I hope I'm clear.

    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 23, 2012
  4. polaire Senior Member

    English, United States
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 23, 2012
  5. LaTexane

    LaTexane New Member

    Lyon, France
    English, United States
    I've tried making sense of the other postings concerning "ne" and the "ne expletif" but I can't figure out what applies to the case I'm looking at. To my understanding the expletive form "Ne" is not a form of negation? Is this correct? Is my sentence below an example of the "ne expletif"?
    Here's the case I'm unsure about:

    "Je ne pein mes tableaux de si riche peinture,
    Et si hauts arguments ne recherche a mes vers..."

    Sorry for the lack of accents. I'm assuming the "ne" here isn't negating anything?


    And I forgot to add, just FYI, this is taken from the context of Du Bellay.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 19, 2008
  6. BMR

    BMR Senior Member

    In this context (the poem of DuBellay) these "ne" are poetic form of negation.
    Like in the first rhymes : Je ne veux point (here "ne ... point" = "ne ... pas")
  7. LaTexane

    LaTexane New Member

    Lyon, France
    English, United States
    Ah! So assuming it is not a "ne expletif", whenever he uses the "ne" by itself it is a (literary) form of a negation?

    Example: "I don't paint my canvases with such rich paint"

    Thank you so much, I was wondering why nothing was making sense.
  8. CallieBSweet Member

    Boston, MA
    USA, English
    I came across this when searching for an address in
    "Nous ne pouvons vous fournir de réponse pour l'une des raisons suivantes..."
    Can someone explain why there is no "pas" in the "ne..." phrase? Am I correct in my understanding that this would not be spoken this way (the tenancy is to drop the "ne" and keep the "pas")?
  9. DearPrudence

    DearPrudence Dépêche Mod (AL mod)

    French (lower Normandy)
    Quite a recurrent question.
    In formal sentences, you can omit "pas" with 4 verbs […]:
    "pouvoir, savoir, oser, cesser"
    but we haven't been able to know why :(

    And quite funnily, in colloquial speech, that would be the other way round, omitting the "ne" & keeping the "pas":
    "je sais pas"
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 31, 2017
  10. Paf le chien

    Paf le chien Senior Member

    France-French (Paris)
    I just found (in my Grevisse :)) that with those verbs, "ne" can be omitted if and only if followed by an infinitive (most cases, in fact, but...).

    So "je ne sais !" is wrong (you wouldn't say it, would you?): you have to say "je ne sais pas !". Then you're back to the regular colloquial form "je sais pas !" where you omit "ne" :cool::rolleyes:

    En espérant juste avoir fait avancer le Schilimibimili... ibimimibili... mbilic :D
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 23, 2012
  11. [Marc] Senior Member

    French France
    je ne sais s'il compte venir... c'est incorrect ?
  12. Paf le chien

    Paf le chien Senior Member

    France-French (Paris)
    Je me doutais bien qu'il faudrait que je tourne la page... ;)

    Donc, toujours selon M. Grevisse, savoir est un cas un peu (voire très) particulier :

    1 s'il signifie l'incertitude, « pas » est facultatif ;
    2 s'il signifie la (mé)connaissance, « pas » est obligatoire(e.g. il ne sait pas lire) ;
    3 s'il est au conditionnel, comme équivalent de « pouvoir », « pas » est une faute (ex.: il ne saurait pas venir plus tôt) ;

    En résumé :

    « je ne sais [pas] s'il compte venir » => cas 1 => « pas » facultatif => OK ;)

    Ouh que ça fait du bien de retrouver son brave Grevisse :D
  13. mont627 New Member

    USA, english
    I'm not able to understand the "ne"'s in french without the pas/que/plus/etc. coming after! Does that make sense? For example,

    L'élément subordonné ne peut exister seul.

    Would that be the same as "L'élément subordonné ne peut pas exister seul." If so, any rhyme or reason as to why they left out the "pas"? This next phrase, I don't understand:

    Il est plus adroit que je ne le croyais.

    Is the "ne" required in this last sentence? Why is it any different than "que je le croyais"? Oh i feel like i'm losing my head, can anyone give me any simple tips on to when to just use the "ne" without the "pas" before i go crazy?!!

    merci mille fois en avance à tous!
  14. jann

    jann co-mod'

    English - USA
    :thumbsup: Correct. Leaving off the "pas" has a sort of literary/formal effect, but it is only possible with a few verbs. I believe it's called the ne littéraire and you can read about it here.

    This is the ne explétif. It is not a negation, and there are only a few set expressions that must/may use it, so it's really quite simple. You can read more on the ne explétif here. I'm sure there must be a few forum threads too...

    Does that help? :)
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 21, 2012
  15. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    English (England)
    Is this "ne explétif" always optional based on the register? Could you say "tu comprends plus que tu parles" rather than "tu comprends plus que tu ne parles"?
  16. Canard

    Canard Senior Member

    Portland, OR
    English, USA
    I was taught that it's de rigueur in formal situations and more careful writing, but in spoken/informal/general use, it's left out.

    I remember using the ne explétif with a friend once online, and he responded "Mais tu viens d'utiliser le ne explétif avec moi ?" ;) He's from Quebec though. I've seen my friend in southern France use it with me, but he also uses the passé simple sometimes :p

    It can be used with all verbs, but it's not the verb that determines its presence... it's the grammatical situations presented in the link DearPrudence gave.
  17. tilt

    tilt Senior Member

    Nord-Isère, France
    French French
    Does your example say You understand more than you speak?
    I'm not sure to understand what it means! :eek:

    Anyway, the ne explétif can be used in such a sentence, yes.
  18. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    English (England)
    Yes, exactly - someone who sits there understanding much of what is said but who lacks the confidence or ability to speak as well as they understand - why does it not work as I put it? Edit - would "tu comprends plus que ce que tu ne parles" be better?
    Yes, I know - my question is whether it can be omitted in such sentences.
  19. tilt

    tilt Senior Member

    Nord-Isère, France
    French French
    No, your first go was better, I just didn't get it, because opposing understand and speak didn't seem that logical to me at first glance.

    And actually, I would keep the ne in the sentence in normal speech as well as in formal one. My problem is that I can't say is this ne is explétif or not: there's a kind of a negation about speaking, in this sentence. And the verb being subjunctive rather indicative indicative rather subjunctive makes this case even more different to the opening sentence! Tough question...
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 23, 2012
  20. Nicomon

    Nicomon Senior Member

    Français, Québec ♀
    I'm puzzled. :confused: If you were refering to timpeac's example "tu comprends plus (le français)/que tu ne (le) parles"... I don't see a subjunctive, but rather a comparative que followed by indicative. And I would say that the ne is indeed expletive.

    imho, it is the same structure as tu écoutes plus que tu (ne) parles/nous écrivons mieux que nous (ne) parlons. It seems to be different in France, but Quebecers have no problem whatsoever omitting this ne. ;)
  21. tilt

    tilt Senior Member

    Nord-Isère, France
    French French
    My mistake!
    I inverted both words in my sentence. I should stop contributing so late in the night! :eek:

    Well, you must be right, this ne is probably explétif. But timepac's example does sound odd without it, in my opinion, whereas I have no problem saying avant que je parte. And I can't explain why!
  22. LV4-26

    LV4-26 Senior Member

    I'm like tilt here.
    I need the ne in "tu comprends plus que tu ne parles" much more than I do in "avant que je (ne) parte".
  23. Nicomon

    Nicomon Senior Member

    Français, Québec ♀
    Just like I said... it seems to be different in France. And I'm sure some Quebecers prefer this ne as well. :) Then again, I don't mind the ne in tu comprends plus que tu (ne) parles, as much as I do in Avant que je (ne) parte.

    Extracted from the BDL
  24. marget Senior Member

    I can understand why you feel more of a the need for the ne in the first sentence. My grammar states that "In an affirmative clause after a comparative and que,... the use of the ne can be explained by the fact that the que clause contains a negative implication. The idea is that you don't speak as much.
  25. tilt

    tilt Senior Member

    Nord-Isère, France
    French French
    Or qu'elle ne semble, too. :)

    That's precisely what I tried to say with a kind of a negation about speaking. And that's why I wonder if this ne is really explétif.
    Thanks a lot for making it clearer. :)
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 9, 2008
  26. Nicomon

    Nicomon Senior Member

    Français, Québec ♀
    I agree that the ne reinforces the "inequality" but it is not necessary.

    Tu comprends plus que tu (ne) parles = Tu parles moins que tu comprends.
    Il cueille plus de fraises qu'il (n') en mange = Il mange moins de fraises qu'il en cueille. (for lack of a better example)

    You may prefer with... but whether or not you use ne/n' doesn't change the meaning of these sentences. Yes, this ne is explétif and always facultative. ;)
  27. tilt

    tilt Senior Member

    Nord-Isère, France
    French French
    I'd say:
    Tu comprends plus que tu (ne) parles = Tu parles moins que tu (ne) comprends.
    Il cueille plus de fraises qu'il (n') en mange = Il mange moins de fraises qu'il (n') en cueille.

    It's difficult to state about ne to be required or not only by referring to the meaning. Tu parles pas is definitely incorrect, but the meaning is obviously the same as tu ne parles pas.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 23, 2012
  28. Nicomon

    Nicomon Senior Member

    Français, Québec ♀
    This is "ne... pas" which is completely different, and I know you know it is. It would be equally incorrect to say tu ne parles (français) - and nothing after -to mean tu ne parles pas (français).
    Tu ne parles français qu'en présence de tes amis would be OK... and the NE would not be explétif in that case.
    Ne explétif is #877 in Grevisse - Le bon usage ;)
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 23, 2012
  29. jooleeya Member

    Australian English

    I'm wondering why there is a ne in the following sentence:

    Enfermé dans une caisse, le petit ne peut s’ébattre.

    It looks like a negation but there is no pas..

    How does this change the meaning of s'ebattre and is this a negation?


  30. Donaldos

    Donaldos Senior Member

    French - France
    This is indeed a negation. The "pas" is omitted, which makes this sentence slightly more formal/literary.
  31. jooleeya Member

    Australian English
    Thank you, Donaldos, for your quick reply.

    It certainly makes sense in context that it's a negation. So why is it possible to do this? Can I omit the pas anywhere to make it negative? Or is there something special with pouvoir which allows me to this?

    Merci encore!
  32. °° Cocotte °°

    °° Cocotte °° Senior Member

    French (France)
    I think you can especially omit it with verbs like "pouvoir", "vouloir", "accepter" etc... But I wouldn't be able to tell the rule !!
  33. Phileas Fogg New Member

    English -USA
    pourquoi on ne dit pas: Il ne pouvait PAS en croire ses yeux.

    on ne nécessite pas "pas" ou ce n'est que qqch informal?
  34. papamac Senior Member


    There is a small group of verbs that, in formal French, can be negated with just "ne" rather than "ne ... pas". "Pouvoir" is one of them.

    In informal French, you would often still add the "pas".
  35. Asr

    Asr Senior Member

    Turquie :)
  36. itka Senior Member

    Nice, France
    On peut ajouter à cette liste les expressions synonymes et quelques autres verbes peu employés.
    Vous trouverez plus d'explications ici, à partir de la page 871.
  37. Asr

    Asr Senior Member

    Turquie :)
    wow, all in French and quite detailed, was a bit scary at first... But very useful indeed! Thanks a lot Itka! :)

    so here is a note for Phileas Fogg : If those afore mentioned verbs are not followed by an infinitive, you'd better stick with "pas". ( I believe I got that right, and didn't know it before.)
  38. san mateo Member

    english america
    I've noticed that sometimes "pas" is left out of the negative construction, "ne...pas". For example, this is a sentence that I just came across in La planète des singes.

    "Voilà deux mois que je n'ai vu mes anciens compagnons de captivité..."

    Why is "pas" excluded?

  39. Zoulllien

    Zoulllien Senior Member

    Liège, Belgium
    Français - Belgique
    Originally (understand: a very long time ago), the negation was made exclusively with "ne". "Pas", which means "step", was added to emphasize the negation ("Je ne vois pas" = "I can't see a step"). "Pas" progressively became fully part of the negation and has now lost its emphasis purpose, but it can still be excluded sometimes. Grammaticaly it means the same, the exclusion of "pas" is just more literary.
  40. french_learner06 Member

    English USA
    I have seen this quite a few times in signs as well as correspondences.

    The rule is that "ne" must accompany "pas" or "jamais," etc. But I have seen sentences where "ne" is not accompanied by "pas."

    For example: "Je ne connais Londres."

    Is this grammatically correct? When does one omit the "pas"?
  41. Thomas1

    Thomas1 Senior Member

    polszczyzna warszawska
    There is also ne called explétif with which you don't use pas:
    Lorsque le locuteur sent dans le contexte une idée de négation, il introduit parfois dans les propositions conjonctives un ne que l’on appelle explétif, à la fois parce qu’il peut toujours être omis et parce qu’il ne correspond pas à une négation objective. Ce ne est donc facultatif, même si les grammairiens ont essayé de rendre son emploi plus rigide.
    Dans une phrase comme Je crains qu’on ne me trompe, la pensée s’arrête sur l’idée de n’être pas trompé. De même, Avant que Louis ne parte implique l’idée que Louis n’est pas (ou pas encore) parti.
    Source: Le bon usage, Grevisse
    The ne explétif is often used with verbs/nouns expressing fear, anxiety e.g.: craindre, avoir peur, s'inquieter, etc; or with those expressing doubt or negation, e.g.: douter, nier, etc. Also with avant que.

    Some other cases when one has to omit "pas":
    --with "ni":
    Je ne l'estime ni ne l'aime.
    --with "que" in the meaning "pourquoi" in exclamative sentences:
    Que ne l'as tu dit plus tôt ?
    --in the expression «n'avoir que faire»
    ... j'ai l'impression d'écouter malgré moi à une porte et de recueillir des confidences dont je n'ai que faire.
    and by the same token with "n'avoir que répondre".
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2008
  42. LaChuna New Member

    I have to pick up again the topic for my question :) :

    I only found on 2 pages in the internet (Literary and Formal Negative Structures in French, Banque de dépannage linguistique - Ne pouvant être employé seul) the remark that you also can use the "ne littéraire", so omitting the "pas" in a negation, after a conditional sentence introduced by "si" expressing a negation, eg:

    "Si tu ne rentres (pas) à 6 heures, tu auras des ennuis."

    But I'm wondering whether it's really common to omit the "pas" in a sentence introduced by "si", because I think, I've never read a text (or at least I don't remember it...) where this had been done... Even more, this kind of usage isn't mentioned as often as the others- so to me it seems like after "si", the literary ne is rarely used.

    Do you agree that the other uses of the literary ne are more common than this kind of usage?

    Thank you in advance!
  43. bloomiegirl

    bloomiegirl Senior Member

    New York
    US English
    Hello LaChuna... I can't launch the "about French" site just now, but the Québec BDL site specifies:

    Il est aussi possible d’employer ne sans autre adverbe de négation lorsqu’il suit un si conditionnel servant à atténuer la négation (si je ne m’abuse, si je ne me trompe, etc.). [underline added for emphasis]
    But the verb in your example is rentrer, which does not weaken the negative meaning, so I think the sentence must be: "Si tu ne rentres pas à 6 heures..." [with pas].
    Last edited: Apr 23, 2010
  44. LaChuna New Member

    Thank your for your response!
    Seems like I didn't read the paragraph on the Québec BDL site precisely enough...

    So the about French site seems wrong telling us that
    "In addition, the ne littéraire may be used with just about any verb in si- clauses:"
  45. Maître Capello

    Maître Capello Mod et ratures

    Suisse romande
    French – Switzerland
    The literary ne is just that: literary. In other words, most people would never use it in speech*, but it isn't that uncommon in literary writing…

    That said, because your sentence seems to be part of a dialog, the literary ne is not really suitable.

    (* Except when the verb is one of the four mentioned before: savoir, pouvoir, oser or cesser.)
  46. LaChuna New Member

    Yes, I actually know that you wouldn't use it in spoken language but still you are right, my example wasn't a good one, I just was looking for a simple one and didn't concentrate on your aspect...
    But by the way the others examples with "Si je me trompe..." and "Si tu ne manges..." (on about French) seem to come from a conversation, too...
  47. bloomiegirl

    bloomiegirl Senior Member

    New York
    US English
    I'll try to remember to check the About French site later, when it's working properly.

    EDIT: I can launch the About French site again, but I have to defer to Maître Capello and the other Francophones on this point.
    Last edited: Apr 23, 2010
  48. LaChuna New Member

    Okay, but not all verbs you use predominately in spoken language are verbs curbing the negation. In this point the about- French site sill contradicts the other site.
  49. Maître Capello

    Maître Capello Mod et ratures

    Suisse romande
    French – Switzerland
    There are some set expressions that we do use in speech (si je ne m'abuse, si je ne me trompe…), but this doesn't apply to all verbs by any means!
  50. David Latapie Member

    French - France
    Except for colloquialisms (si je ne m'abuse), proberbs (absence de preuve n'est preuve d'absence, nécessité n'obère urbanité) and poetry, a single negative (ne without pas, que…) is so uncommon that it might be misunderstood for a positive statement (the ne either going unnoticed or considered a typo).

    Avoid it except if you really know what you are doing.
    Last edited: Apr 24, 2010

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