FR: nier / douter + "ne" explétif

Discussion in 'French and English Grammar / Grammaire française et anglaise' started by Sholto, Oct 24, 2011.

  1. Sholto New Member

    Dutch, but am no longer fluent

    This page is confusing me a little. At the bottom there is a list of verbs and phrases which take both the subjunctive and the ne explétif.

    Apparently nier and douter only take the ne explétif when there are negative implications involved, but then why are they in the list in the first place? Surely the vast majority of verbs and phrases indeed only take 'ne' when it's negative.

    I know she includes both negative and non negative uses in the page, but I get the impression than she's mainly focusing on the latter...isn't that just pointing out that nier and douter are two of the common French verbs, since all of them can at one point take it correctly?

    Or is it because by definition they are negative, so they need to be made "doubly" negative? So to doubt is negative, to deny is negative etc. But then so are verbs like empêcher and it uses the explétif either way.
    Sorry if I'm missing an obvious point! Would be grateful for any comments.
  2. jann

    jann co-mod'

    English - USA
    The ne explétif is in no way a negation. There is nothing negative about it, so there is nothing "doubly" negative about using it in a sentence where the main verb is negated. (In this way, the ne explétif is totally distinct from the ne littéraire, the latter being a true negation where you get to omit the pas.) As a matter of fact, the ne explétif has no meaning, and it does not affect the meaning of the sentence. It has been discussed extensively on our forums: FR: "ne" without "pas" - "ne" explétif et "ne" littéraire

    So really, the ne explétif is just a little word that gets added in certain situations... but that doesn't mean you can put it anywhere and everywhere. There are certain times when it tends to appear, and other times when it will not appear. The article lists the situations where it is natural to add this meaningless ne... and the situations where it is not natural.

    According to the article, it is natural to add the ne explétif after je ne doute/nie pas que (negated main verb) or after doute/nie-t-il que...? (inverted question form), but it is not natural to add it when using these verbs in other sentence structures. Perhaps the native speakers have some thoughts on that? :)
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2011
  3. Lacuzon

    Lacuzon Senior Member

    French - France

    Although using ne explétif with affirmative structures seems very natural to me, including when speaking unlike what is said in that article, it sounds very weird to use it with douter and nier even with negative or interrogative sentences.

    I really would never use ne explétif with nier nor with douter.
  4. Sholto New Member

    Dutch, but am no longer fluent
    Oui- j'ai demandé a ma mère et elle croit que je complique les choses- mais c'est facile pour elle! Elle aussi ne comprend pas pourquoi la dame a mis ces deux mots séparément.

    Thanks to both of you :) Maybe it's just that douter more naturally occurs in conjunction with "pas" i.e. "I don't doubt that"...
  5. Maître Capello

    Maître Capello Mod et ratures

    Suisse romande
    French – Switzerland
    I fully agree with Lacuzon: it would never occur to me to use the expletive ne after nier or douter, whether in the positive or in the negative. Unfortunately, websites such as are usually correct but they sometimes claim oddities like in this case.
  6. CapnPrep Senior Member

    There is a lot of misinformation on, but this particular oddity of French grammar is claimed by many other sources:
    • Thomas1 in the thread jann linked to above :)
    • TLF, s.v. douter: "B. 2. b) Ne pas douter que + ne explétif et le subj. [Avec suppression de ne pour exprimer un fait incontestable] […] Rem. Dans les phrases interr., on peut exprimer ou non le ne explétif."
    • TLF, s.v. nier: "Rem. 2. Lorsque la prop. est au subj., elle peut contenir un ne explétif (v. ne III) si la prop. princ. qui contient nier est à la forme négative ou interr."
    • Grevisse (§1024, c): "[Le locuteur introduit un ne que l’on appelle explétif] Assez souvent, dans les propositions dépendant d’un verbe exprimant le doute ou la négation (douter, désespérer, nier, disconvenir, contester, etc.) et construit négativement ou interrogativement"
  7. Sholto New Member

    Dutch, but am no longer fluent
    Maybe it's fallen into obscurity and it's one of those which is now optional. Like putting accents on capital letters.

    Oh look, I've just discovered the accents there :D
  8. CapnPrep Senior Member

    The expletive ne is always optional, but yes, it is used more commonly in some contexts than others.
  9. Maître Capello

    Maître Capello Mod et ratures

    Suisse romande
    French – Switzerland
    Je ne nie/doute pas que ce ne soit possible… ;):D It is definitely not incorrect. However, I've never heard or read any native use it in modern French with those two verbs. It does sound odd (at least to me and Lacuzon) and I would strongly advise to avoid it.
  10. geostan

    geostan Senior Member

    English Canada
    Selon A.V. Thomas, l'emploi du ne explétif après ne pas nier que ou la forme interrogative est facultatif, mais il ajoute qu'il est le plus souvent omis.

    Quant à ne pas douter que, selon le Dournon, dictionnaire publié par le Livre de Poche, bien que cette expression, ainsi que la forme interrogative doive en principe s'accompagner de cette particule, l'auteur dit que le souci d'une construction moins lourde en autorise la suppression.

    C'est sans doute cette dernière observation du Dournon qui explique pourquoi je ne l'emploie pas.
  11. Pierre Simon Senior Member

    « Nul doute que ce 'post-scriptum' (à une lettre écrite en réalité quelques mois plus tôt à Lalande) n'ait préparé et orienté la lecture... »

    [L'auteur : Jacques Proust qui, selon Wikipédia, est né à Poitiers en 1926.]
  12. lucas-sp Senior Member

    English - Californian
    Well, that example doesn't really contradict Maître Capello's point. In highly sustained academic writing we would expect the most stylized and formal, even archaic, grammatical and syntactical structures. This sentence is obviously an example of that kind of stylistic formality and exuberance.

    (Also "doute" in that sentence is a noun, not a verb!)

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