FR: "pas" without "ne" - omitting "ne" in casual negation

Discussion in 'French and English Grammar / Grammaire française et anglaise' started by samcluk, Oct 20, 2007.

  1. samcluk Senior Member

    English, United Kingdom
    Moderator note: multiple threads merged to create this one

    I know the 'ne' is often omitted in spoken french.

    But must it always be there in written french? Even in a familiar letter to a good friend?
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 13, 2008
  2. JD-Styles Senior Member

    Canada, English & French
    In a familiar letter it's not really necessary. Just like in a familiar letter in English you might write "gonna" instead of "going to" just because it's more akin to how you'd say it.
  3. Maître Capello

    Maître Capello Mod et ratures

    Suisse romande
    French – Switzerland
    I disagree. Why be lazy? Just use it whenever you write. Nobody would blame you for using it whereas you could be blamed for not using it…
  4. samcluk Senior Member

    English, United Kingdom
    Well my homework is to write an informal letter (we are practising different registers of french) so I was wondering if omitting the 'ne' would make it informal or just wrong?

    If I was writing a real letter I'd probably just put it in but I'm looking for informal stuff!
  5. Maître Capello

    Maître Capello Mod et ratures

    Suisse romande
    French – Switzerland
    You need to write an informal letter, but it is a letter still. In my opinion it is only 'acceptable' to omit the 'ne' in speech…
  6. Tower of Babel Senior Member

    USA (American English)
    Hello Everyone,

    In colloquial French, the word "ne" is sometimes omitted in negation:
    "Je sais pas."
    "Ils sont pas mauvais."​
    - Does this usage sound impolite or uneducated if used with a stranger or an authority (such as a gendarme)?
    - Would the same standards of acceptability apply to both written and spoken French?
    - Has the frequency of this usage been changing over time?

    Thank you for any information!
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 13, 2008
  7. machigma Senior Member

    Hello Tower of Babel! :) I'm not sure to be able to give a thorough answer to your questions, but here's at least something! Sentences like "je sais pas" or "ils sont pas mauvais" are normally not used in written language - except for instance in a thriller or a novel, where some figures would speak a colloquial language, and this would then show the difference between someone who speaks "good" French and someone who doesn't. It doesn't sound very nice even in spoken language, though we might use it quite often! You could say "je sais pas" to a policeman, it will not show that you don't respect him - just that you don't speak proper French! I don't think the frequency of this usage has been changed over time.
    Hope it's clear enough...:confused:
  8. Hermione Member

    French, New Caledonia
    Just a small thing, I personally wouldn't say "je sais pas" to a policeman, but "je NE sais pas", ça fait "meilleure impression" !
  9. Tower of Babel Senior Member

    USA (American English)

    Now I would like to just confirm whether "ne" is also sometimes omitted at the start of a phrase. Could the following examples occur in colloquial speech?
    "Penses-tu pas que c'est une bonne idée?" (interrogatif)
    "Regarde pas!" (impératif)​
    In fact, can anyone think of an example where "ne" could never be omitted, even in informal conversation?
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 25, 2017
  10. machigma Senior Member

    You cannot ommit ne in "Ne penses-tu pas...?" (interro-negative form). You can say "Regarde pas!" (imperative), but it's very, very colloquial - no good French. You'd rather say "ne regarde pas".
  11. tilt

    tilt Senior Member

    Nord-Isère, France
    French French
    Dropping ne in Ne penses-tu pas... ? would make no sense, since it is colloquial speech whereas keeping the subject inverted is formal speech.
    But if you say it fully colloquial, you can drop ne without any problem: Tu penses pas... ?
  12. machigma Senior Member

    "Tu penses pas que...", as penses here is the second person of present indicative, and not the imperative form (where you don't put the s at the end, like in "pense un peu à toutes ces belles choses")
  13. ascoltate

    ascoltate Senior Member

    Montréal, QC
    U.S.A. & Canada, English
    As I think I've said on this forum before, multiple studies have shown that in spoken French, "ne" is deleted about 91% of the time in European French and 99% of the time in Québec French. So, when speaking, it is never inappropriate to leave it out. It is not "very, very colloquial," but rather the norm. You would sound absolutely strange if you never dropped "ne" when speaking, or maybe even if you only dropped it 1/2 the time.
    That being said, it would in most cases be inappropriate to say "Ne penses-tu pas" in spoken European French anyway. It should be noted, however, that only in Europe would this be the formal form. In Québec, inversion with subject pronouns is the normal way to ask a question, so "Penses-tu pas" sounds totally natural--"est-ce que" is the formal way to ask a question in Québec.

    see also:
    Elsig, Martin, and Shana Poplack. 2006. "Transplanted Dialects and Language Change: Question Formation in Québec." _U.Penn. Working Papers in Linguistics_ 12.2: 77-90.
  14. Tower of Babel Senior Member

    USA (American English)
    Hello ascoltate, thank you for the information. I would like to check that I'm understanding you correctly. Are you saying that subject inversion carries opposite connotations of formality in France versus Québec? Are my sentences below a correct reflection of what you're saying? (I've changed the "tu" to "vous" for the formal 2nd person singular to make it more realistic):

    European French
    Ne pensez-vous pas que c'est une bonne idée? (formal)
    Tu ne penses pas que c'est une bonne idée? (informal)
    Tu penses pas que c'est une bonne idée? (more informal)

    Québec French
    Est-ce que vous ne pensez pas que c'est une bonne idée? (formal)
    Ne penses-tu pas que c'est une bonne idée? (informal)
    Penses-tu pas que c'est une bonne idée? (more informal)
  15. ascoltate

    ascoltate Senior Member

    Montréal, QC
    U.S.A. & Canada, English
    Yes, that is what I'm saying! :)
    Although two things should be noted:
    1. Even the use of "tu" + "ne" sounds unlikely. The use of "ne" is extremely formal -- as I said, it rarely occurs in casual speech, if at all. So, I would suggest trying all those sentences in your example with "vous" instead of "tu" to get a better idea of the social register difference.
    2. Québec French also has intonation available as a way of asking questions, as European French has "est-ce que" available.
  16. Maître Capello

    Maître Capello Mod et ratures

    Suisse romande
    French – Switzerland
    Your statement is much too strong! I'm using the ne in regular speech maybe half of the time and it doesn't sound “extremely formal” as you said. In other words, I'd rather say the ne is used in proper speech but dropped in everyday's colloquial speech…
  17. ascoltate

    ascoltate Senior Member

    Montréal, QC
    U.S.A. & Canada, English
    You don't. You only think you do-- I challenge you to record your speech for a day and count.
    I am willing to bet you don't. The study that found the highest rate of "ne" retention speech in everyday speech still had it at less than 20%.
    So, no, my statement is much too weak, because I'm trying to be polite to others who don't base their statement on actual data, but rather on their impressions (which, we know, are often false). To a nonnative speaker who asked me, I would tell them that it's a much greater error to pronounce "ne" 1/2 the time than to never pronounce it at all, so it's a good idea to get in the habit of leaving it out entirely in speech.
    But I was afraid that might offend people who still think that the Académie can regulate people's speech successfully.
  18. Maître Capello

    Maître Capello Mod et ratures

    Suisse romande
    French – Switzerland
    OK, let's assume I use ne only 10% of the time… But that doesn't mean I sound “extremely formal” when I do use it! :)
  19. ascoltate

    ascoltate Senior Member

    Montréal, QC
    U.S.A. & Canada, English
    No of course not!! :) You are right. I should préciser:
    I meant that given the informality of "tu" and the relative formality of "ne", the likelihood of their occurrence is very small, although obviously not impossible (probably next to impossible in Québec, however, where the frequency of "ne" is already at about 1%...)
  20. tilt

    tilt Senior Member

    Nord-Isère, France
    French French
    The point is maybe to specify what formal means. You seem to distinguish only two levels of language, Ascoltate: formal and informal. I consider I use at least three of them.

    What I call formal French is a speech I almost never use orally, except in very specific situations, and where ne is never dropped and the subject is always inverted when required. With friends and family, people I address as tu, I speak a colloquial speech and I certainly drop most of the ne's and forget subject inversion. But at work, or while shopping, for example, with people I address as vous, I use a common level of language where ne is generally not dropped, even if the subject inversion often happens to vanish.

    In other words, I wouldn't mind saying the subject inversion is "extremely formal", but I wouldn't say the same about not dropping ne.
  21. ascoltate

    ascoltate Senior Member

    Montréal, QC
    U.S.A. & Canada, English
    Thanks for the précision, Tilt! It is certainly far from my intention to imply that language has only two registers. That being said, there is no register of spoken French in which "ne" is never dropped (even if it may be retained at a higher percentage). But yes, there are certainly registers of French spoken in France where inversion would never occur but "ne" retention would occur. In Québec, it would naturally be the reverse. So, I will limit the term "extremely formal" to those registers where "ne" is retained 100% of the time in discourse and not, say, 50%.
  22. mtmjr

    mtmjr Senior Member

    California/Ohio (US)
    English (US)
    Je suis certain qu'il existe des fils sur ce sujet, mais je ne pouvais pas les trouver... Quand on parle, je sais qu'il est courant de laisser tomber le "ne" dans les phrases négatives, mais en ce qui concerne quand on écrit? Je me trouve voulant laisser tomber surtout le "ne" quand j'écrit "ce n'est pas". Je ne sais pas pourquoi, mais "c'est pas" me semble mieux. Je veux le faire aussi aux phrases:

    Je sais pas.
    Je pense pas.
    Je peux pas.

    Comment accepté est ce construction aux écritures?
  23. arundhati Senior Member

    French - France
    Eh non, ce n'est pas correct. "Ne" est obligatoire dans ces exemples. :)
  24. Moon Palace

    Moon Palace Senior Member

    Omitting 'ne' in a sentence is very commonplace in casual conversations, but when you write, you need to add 'ne'. (except if you are writing a dialogue and wish to emphasize the poor command of grammar on the part of the locutor).
  25. JeanDeSponde

    JeanDeSponde Senior Member

    France, Lyon area
    France, Français
    Je sais pas ? It ain't no correct;)...
  26. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Plutôt I dunno. ;)
  27. mtmjr

    mtmjr Senior Member

    California/Ohio (US)
    English (US)
    But people would say these in casual conversation, right?
  28. JeanDeSponde

    JeanDeSponde Senior Member

    France, Lyon area
    France, Français
    Absolutely. It would not be taken as "poor" or "ill-educated"; exactly as Outsider's dunno.
  29. L'Inconnu Senior Member

    Anyway, getting back to writing an informal letter, if we want to represent a colloquial speech pattern, we could write “’J’sais pas”. But, then again, I suppose we could also ask would “I dunno” look write in an English letter?
  30. Lizoo Member

    Canada / English
    I agree with Maître Capello that the use of ne is not extremely formal, at least in France. It is also true, though, that more and more French politicians, including the current president, drop the ne when giving speeches. This may be due to a desire to avoid appearing aloof and to be seen to be closer to ordinary people.
  31. t_liv New Member

    Chicago, US
    English - American
    Even though I am absolutely sure that someone has already asked this question, I can't find it by searching the forums!

    I know that dropping the "ne" is less "formal" than including it, but when I studied in France, I got the impression that hardly anyone ever used "ne" when they spoke. My French university friends told me that "ne" is never used in spoken French except when reading aloud from a book. Eventually I stopped using it altogether.

    My question: Should I ever use "ne" when speaking? And to who? Professors? People that I vouvoyer? Vendeurs? My boss? Police officers? :eek:

    If anyone can help me or direct me to a previous thread which discusses this, I'd be much obliged. ;)

    Merci beaucoup,
  32. Welshie

    Welshie Senior Member

    England, English
    Welllllll, whenever you want to be formal. Under what circumstances would you say "is going to" instead of "is gonna" in English? Under what circumstances would you say "do not" instead of "don't"? I wouldn't say "ne" is never used in conversation, but it entirely depends on the context.
  33. Fred_C

    Fred_C Senior Member

    Besides, I would add that if you want to sound formal, you do not always say "ne", you just increase the frequency.
    I do not think that there exists anyone that absolutely never drops a "ne".
  34. felicia Senior Member

    Norwegian, Norway
    How would (could) you then say " J' (ne) c'est pas"?? Would the meaning come through without "ne"? Learnt French many many years ago!! and have forgotten a GREAT DEAL.
  35. Katoussa

    Katoussa Senior Member

    Yes of course, the 'negation meaning' is still understood since 'pas' is still in the sentence. 'ne' is so unaccented in French, that it just disappears.

    We would pronounce 'je ne sais pas' like
    - je sais pas
    - j'sais pas
    and even - chais pas


  36. HistofEng Senior Member

    New York
    USA Eng, Haitian-Creole
    Relatedly...Is it normal to pronounce 'je ne sais pas' as

    Je n'sais pas

    For some reason I do this a lot instead of dropping the 'ne' all together (meaning I tend to just pronounce the 'n')
  37. Punky Zoé

    Punky Zoé Senior Member

    France - français
    Yes, I do agree and I would say I make it more fréquently than dropping the "ne".
    Probably, a question of regional accent, and the way we do pronounce all syllables around here.

    Moreover, I would say than in work related context, I generally pronounce the "ne". It is only with relatives that I pronounce sometimes "je sais pas", "ch'ais pas" or "je n'sais pas".
  38. Ezysqezylemnpezy Member

    Salut tout le monde!

    I just have a quick grammar question.

    Est-ce qu'on dit "Il y a rien a faire" ou "Il n'y a rien a faire?"

    I was confused with the double negative.

    Merci beaucoup à l'avance!
  39. wildan1

    wildan1 Moderando ma non troppo (French-English, CC Mod)

    il n'y a rien à faire is correct. Il y a rien à faire is a colloquial (oral) way of saying the same thing, where the " ne " gets dropped.

    This is not really a double negative, since French negatives usually are a "sandwich" around the verb: ne...pas; ne... rien; ne... jamais, etc.

    A double negative here would be il n'y a pas rien à faire, meaning There IS something that can be done.
  40. Bobby Lamarck Senior Member

    Always "Ne" or "N' " with "Rien" or "jamais" etc...
  41. Tim~!

    Tim~! Senior Member

    Leicester, UK
    UK — English
    ... in standard French. They're often dropped when spoken, however. Unlike in English, there's no notion that the person breaking the formal rules is "wrong" or an idiot, so you'll hear it a lot.
  42. wildan1

    wildan1 Moderando ma non troppo (French-English, CC Mod)

    Unless you are sending a text message or writing a post card, you should always write ne...
  43. sunsail Senior Member

    de langue Turc
    What is the difference between these?

    je ne sais pas

    je sais pas ( I heard this in one of the movies)

    merci d'advance
  44. newg

    newg Senior Member

    London, UK
    These sentences mean the same thing: "I don't know".
    When speaking you will hear "je sais pas" most of the time.
    In written work, you will see "je ne sais pas" most of the time.

    Je sais pas > français parlé
    Je ne sais pas > français écrit
  45. tilt

    tilt Senior Member

    Nord-Isère, France
    French French
    Je sais pas and Je ne sais pas mean the same, so they both usually translate in I don't know.
    That said, if you really want to render in English the colloquial side of je sais pas, maybe Don't know could work.
  46. newg

    newg Senior Member

    London, UK
    Ou "Dunno" ;)
  47. tilt

    tilt Senior Member

    Nord-Isère, France
    French French
    Oui ! :thumbsup:
  48. mplsray Senior Member

    I have doubts about this. The French generally show a greater distinction between the written language and the spoken language than do native speakers of English, according to linguist John McWhorter in his book The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language. (He gives as an example of this the use in spoken French of on rather than nous for the second-person pronoun.) This leads me to think that both Don't know and I dunno would be inappropriate translations for Je sais pas, in most cases, while I don't know would be an appropriate translation for both Je sais pas and Je ne sais pas in speech and somewhat informal writing (which includes much newspaper journalism here in the US). Finally, I do not know would, of course be used to translate Je ne sais pas when it appears in very formal writing.

    Your thoughts on the subject?
  49. tobywashere Member

    Toronto, Canada
    English - Canada
    mais regarde, ascoltate vient du québec, où personne (ou plutôt 99%) ne dit «ne». Donc «ne» est plus soigné là-bas
    mais tu viens de suisse, où l'on parle le français européen, donc «ne» est plus courant (on dit «ne» 10% du temps).
    et à propos, est-ce qu'on peut omettre le «ne» dans le phrase ci-dessus «personne ne dit»
  50. ascoltate

    ascoltate Senior Member

    Montréal, QC
    U.S.A. & Canada, English
    Le "ne" peut toujours être omis dans le français parlé, y compris dans une phrase comme "Personne ne dit" -- par contre, ce serait difficile à l'oral de distinguer entre l'absence et la présence de "ne' dans cette phrase, parce que le schwa à la fin du mot "personne" peut également être prononcé ou omis (presque toujours omis en français québécois, mais prononcé régulièrement en français du Midi, par exemple...).

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