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Understanding the 'ne' explétif

The ne explétif is an example of those words in the French language that don't carry any meaning on their own but are used for syntax or pronunciation reasons.

You usually find the ne explétif in subjunctive subordinate clauses following verbs with negative connotation (e.g. to fear, to avoid, to doubt). Here, the ne explétif is used to emphasise the negative aspect of what came before it.

Look at these examples of usage:

Elle doute qu'il ne vienne.
She doubts he's coming.

Je te fais confiance à moins que tu ne me mentes.
I trust you unless you lie to me.

Évitons que la situation ne dégénère !
Let's avoid the situation getting worse!

Even though it looks like a negation, the expletive ne carries NO NEGATIVE meaning.


ATTENTION:
 Note that the ne alone does not make the sentence negative. You always need the pas to make it a negation, for example:

Tu as peur qu'il ne parte pas.
You're afraid he won't leave.

Tu as peur qu'il ne parte.
You're afraid he will leave.

 

See also these lessons about expressions using the ne explétif:

Sans que (+ ne explétif) + Le Subjonctif = Without doing

À moins que + ne explétif + Le Subjonctif = Unless you do

Plutôt que + ne explétif + Le Subjonctif = Rather than you do

Avant que + ne explétif + Le Subjonctif = Before I do

De peur que + Le Subjonctif = For fear that

 

Learn more about these related French grammar topics

Examples and resources

Tu as peur qu'il ne parte.
You're afraid he will leave.


Je te fais confiance à moins que tu ne me mentes.
I trust you unless you lie to me.


Évitons que la situation ne dégénère !
Let's avoid the situation getting worse!


Elle doute qu'il ne vienne.
She doubts he's coming.


counter example


Tu as peur qu'il ne parte pas.
You're afraid he won't leave.


Q&A

Yoel

Kwiziq community member

10 June 2018

1 reply

So why does this sentence ''Rosa craint que nous n'allions en vacances.'' mean that Rosa fears she will not go on vacation?

The wrong answer on the quiz leads to the lesson on "ne expletif" that states that the ne does not have any negative meaning. So that would make it seem that Rosa is fearing that we may go on vacation. But the answer is that Rosa is fearing that we will NOT go on vacation. Can you please break this sentence down and explain how the "ne expletif" fits into this? 

Chris

Kwiziq community member

12 June 2018

12/06/18

Hi Yoel,


In a negation you ALWAYS need ne + another negating particle like pas, aucun, plus, jamais, etc. It isn't a negation without the other part. A "ne" alone does not a negation make.


This leaves a single "ne" open for other uses within a sentence, and the French language has found one for it: a single "ne" is used to emphasise the contextual relationship between a main clause and a subordinate clause. Particularly when the verb in the main clause carries a negative meaning such as "craindre".


Therefore you need to disreagard the "ne" in the sentence, it is a ne explétif and not a negation. Rosa is afraid that we might go on vacation, not the other way around.


-- Chris (not a native speaker).

Catriona

Kwiziq community member

2 February 2018

1 reply

True negatives with the 'ne' explétif

Just curious: how would you say "They are afraid that he won't come back"? Two ne's?

Chris

Kwiziq community member

2 February 2018

2/02/18

In this case, I guess, you just use ordinary negation. As far as I know, there is no "ne explétif" in a negation. So you'd say:

Ils craignent qu'il ne revienne pas. -- They are afraid that he won't come back.
Ils craignent qu'il ne revienne. -- They are afraid that he will come back.

-- Chris (not a native speaker).

Barbara

Kwiziq community member

29 March 2017

1 reply

I would like to ditch the n'expletif if we don't use in conversation

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

29 March 2017

29/03/17

Bonjour Barbara !

Attention ! The "ne explétif" is used in conversation, as well as in writing. It's just that some people nowadays omit it sometimes.
You still need to know that it's there, and recognise it when people use it, notwithstanding use it yourself in formal writing (admin...).

Bonne journée !

Bronwyn

Kwiziq community member

9 March 2017

1 reply

Expressions using ne expletive

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

10 March 2017

10/03/17

Bonjour Bronwyn!

Thanks to your message, I've now added links to related lessons - i.e. expressions with "ne explétif" - in this lesson!

Merci et à bientôt !

Farid

Kwiziq community member

11 February 2017

3 replies

Are these are examples of ne explétif

Hello, I have started reading L'etranger by Albert Camus recently. I see the following two sentences with the use of ne and no other negative words (like "pas" or "rien", etc). Are they examples of Ne Explétif", or is there another explanation? 1. "Puis il m’a serré la main qu’il a gardée si long- temps que je ne savais trop comment la retirer." 2. "Vous ne pouviez subvenir à ses besoins." Merci beaucoup en avance!

Janie

Kwiziq community member

18 February 2017

18/02/17

Janie

Kwiziq community member

18 February 2017

18/02/17

They re just spoken French - more casual style, not using the pas etc

Johannes

Kwiziq community member

26 April 2017

26/04/17

I think Farid is right. One finds such sentences in French. Sometimes, one can omit the "pas". I would however not be able to give a rule.

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