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Le Blog: Lingual Links

By angelaluke, Mar 25 2017 02:15PM

So this week's conversation had one phrase that

four people asked me about: 'Il ne cesse de pleuvoir'.

Why was there no 'pas' to accompany the 'ne'?


The 'ne' used on its own like in the phrase above is called the 'ne littéraire' and there are seven verbs whose meanings are rendered negative just by adding the 'ne'. The first six verbs are: cesser, oser, pouvoir and, less common, bouger, daigner, and manquer. And so, 'il ne cesse de pleuvoir' means 'it hasn't stopped raining' or 'it keeps on raining'.


The seventh verb is savoir and the 'ne' can be used on its own under three conditions. Firstly, if the sentence expresses doubt, 'je ne sais s'il arrive', secondly. with 'would', je ne saurais comment y aller', and thirdly with a question word, 'il ne sait quoi dire'. However, we cannot use 'ne' on its own if we are talking about a skill or a fact, for example 'je ne sais pas parler chinois'.


The other instance when 'ne' can be used without 'pas' is called the 'ne explétif ' and, unlike the 'ne littéraire', it does not have a negative meaning. However it is used in situations where the main clause has a verb with a negative meaning to express fear, warning, doubt, and denial. Here's an example: J'ai peur qu'il ne fasse trop froid'. The 'ne explétif ' is also used after certain conjunctions, namely, à moins que, avant que, de crainte que, de peur que and sans que. So, for example, we could say, 'j'irai à la plage demain à moins qu’il ne pleuve.'


In common parlance, you can get away without using either the 'ne littéraire' or the 'ne explétif ' but if you want to use stylised, beautiful-sounding French, having a couple of set phrases up your sleeve can be a good idea.


Please let me know if you have found this useful, or use our panic button if you'd like more detail on this. We are always happy to help... à moins que la question ne soit trop difficile bien sûr :)


À bientôt,


Angela

By angelaluke, Mar 30 2016 01:44PM


The expression 'est-ce que' came up today in our French conversation groups. These three little words are so small and mean so much. I am often asked what 'est-ce que' actually means. Well, literally the expression means 'is it that...' which is not really that helpful! It is more useful to look at the function of the expression. 'Est-ce que' serves to introduce a question, which by default means that you are expecting an answer. Therefore as soon as the person you are talking to hears 'est-ce que', they are hooked in and ready to reply. This is particularly handy if you are in a noisy environment or if you are unconfident about your spoken French and so speaking softly. 'Est-ce que' is also useful as it means that the rest of the question follows the usual word order of a statement; no need to invert the subject and verb or to raise the tone of your voice to indicate you'd like an answer. 'Est-ce que' can also be combined with other question words such as 'pourquoi'. For example, pourquoi est-ce que vous êtes ici? And n'oublions pas that if someone says, 'est-ce que' to you, they are also expecting a reply. My tongue in cheek advice at this point is, if you are not entirely sure of the question, to reply 'oui', as they are probably asking you something pleasant like 'est-ce que vous voudriez encore du vin?' or a pleantry such as 'est-ce que vous êtes ici en vacances?'... Any queries, don't forget to use our website panic button. A plus, Angela

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