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 + ne explétif + Le Subjonctif = For fear that

 

Learn more about these related French grammar topics

Examples and resources

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.


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


counter example


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


Q&A Forum 10 questions, 19 answers

MollyC1Kwiziq community member

ne explétif with 'avoir peur que'

I've answered the quiz question: "J'ai peur qu'ils _________ la vérité." with "ne sachent."  This was marked incorrect and the correct answer was "sachent."  I submitted that as an error, but the response there was to come here and ask why it's incorrect.  

I've reviewed the 'ne explétif' lesson over and over and am sure I've lost my mind.  In that lesson, "avoir peur que" is NOT marked as depending on whether the phrase is negative and says that it always takes the 'ne'.  Can anyone help me understand why my answer is incorrect? Many, many thanks.




Asked 2 months ago
CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Hi Molly,

I understand your frustration as the ‘ne explétif’ is not easy.

In my opinion you should have the ‘ne’ in written form but it would be dropped in speech.

However, if you say -

J’ai peur qu’ils sachent la vérité

It eliminates the doubt completely and your fear that they may know the truth becomes almost a certainty. 

I will however try and get someone to have a look at this to see if it is an error indeed.

In the meantime , hope this helps!

AurélieKwiziq team member

Bonjour Molly !

Indeed, here you were correct to insert the "ne" explétif, though it isn't compulsory, as Cécile explained. As this was a conjugation question, we didn't think of including the option of adding the "ne", but it is of course correct here, so thanks to your feedback, we've now marked it as correct :)

Merci encore et bonne journée !

ne explétif with 'avoir peur que'

I've answered the quiz question: "J'ai peur qu'ils _________ la vérité." with "ne sachent."  This was marked incorrect and the correct answer was "sachent."  I submitted that as an error, but the response there was to come here and ask why it's incorrect.  

I've reviewed the 'ne explétif' lesson over and over and am sure I've lost my mind.  In that lesson, "avoir peur que" is NOT marked as depending on whether the phrase is negative and says that it always takes the 'ne'.  Can anyone help me understand why my answer is incorrect? Many, many thanks.




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StewartC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Dropping the ne explétif in speech.

 Please could you confirm that in speech, the ne explétif can be dropped.
Asked 11 months ago
CécileKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Hi Stewart, 

Indeed in speech, the 'ne' is rarely used and it can sound precious.

You will hear -

"J'en sais rien", instead of, "Je n'en sais rien" = I haven't got a clue

"J'sais pas" instead of "Je ne sais pas" = I don't know

etc...

StewartC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor
Thank you

Dropping the ne explétif in speech.

 Please could you confirm that in speech, the ne explétif can be dropped.

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LisaC1Kwiziq community member

Rosa and "ne craint" again

Bonjour,

I have a question regarding the same sentence another person posted about.  "Rosa craint que nous n'allions en vacances."  This confuses me as well, because I took it to mean "Rosa is afraid we might go on vacation."  Is that correct?  That is not what it shows for an answer in the quiz.  It says "Rosa fears we might never go..."  But if ne has no negative value, it cannot mean never.

Merci,

Lisa

Asked 1 year ago
ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

Hi Lisa, the meaning is that Rosa is afraid we would go on vacation. No negative meaning. Are you sure that this isn't the correct answer in the quiz?

-- Chris (not a native speaker).

LisaC1Kwiziq community member

Hi, Chris,

Thank you for the clarification.  Yes, quite sure on what the quiz answer says because I copied the translation from the correction into my notebook to try and figure out why it was different from the other "ne expletif" examples.

Thank you,

Lisa 

CécileKwiziq team member

Hi Lisa,

As this might be a translation error and it is a quiz use the 'Report it' button in your correction board ad it links to the specific quiz and it is easier for Aurélie to check and answer you.

Bonne continuation!

LisaC1Kwiziq community member
Thank you, Cecile.  I will know to do that another time.  :)

Rosa and "ne craint" again

Bonjour,

I have a question regarding the same sentence another person posted about.  "Rosa craint que nous n'allions en vacances."  This confuses me as well, because I took it to mean "Rosa is afraid we might go on vacation."  Is that correct?  That is not what it shows for an answer in the quiz.  It says "Rosa fears we might never go..."  But if ne has no negative value, it cannot mean never.

Merci,

Lisa

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DonaldC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Plutôt que + ne expletif

J'aimerais voir une phrase avec plutôt que...  C'est possible...?  Je ne crois pas que j'aie vu une phrase avec <plutôt que> dans vos interros.  Merci d'avance, Don
Asked 1 year ago
AurélieKwiziq team memberCorrect answer

Bonjour Donald !

Yes, indeed, though the expression plutôt que + ne explétif does exist in French, it is very rare, and I actually struggled myself to find an example :)

Truth is we are more likely to use plutôt que de + [infinitive], to compare two activities for example, such as:

Tu ferais mieux de réviser plutôt que de  regarder la télé !

But here is a sentence with plutôt que :

Je préfèrerais que tu l'accompagnes plutôt qu'elle ne vienne toute seule.

Note that both verbs in bold are in Le Subjonctif here.

PS @Chris : your sentence is not really colloquial, here's a better equivalent :)
Je préfèrerais qu'on joue au foot plutôt que tu ne restes devant l'ordinateur.

Bonne journée à tous les deux !

ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

Hi Donald,

J'aimerais si on jouait au foot plutôt que tu ne restes devant l'ordinateur. --
I would like it if we played soccer rather than you stay in front of the computer.

-- Chris (not a native speaker).

DonaldC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor
Merci.

Plutôt que + ne expletif

J'aimerais voir une phrase avec plutôt que...  C'est possible...?  Je ne crois pas que j'aie vu une phrase avec <plutôt que> dans vos interros.  Merci d'avance, Don

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DonaldC1Kwiziq Q&A regular contributor

Plutôt que

Asked 1 year ago
ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor
See my answer to your later post.

Plutôt que

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YoelC1Kwiziq community member

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? 
Asked 1 year ago
ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor

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).

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? 

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CatrionaC1Kwiziq community member

True negatives with the 'ne' explétif

Just curious: how would you say "They are afraid that he won't come back"? Two ne's?
Asked 1 year ago
ChrisC1 Kwiziq Q&A super contributor Correct answer
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).

True negatives with the 'ne' explétif

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

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BarbaraC1Kwiziq community member

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

Asked 2 years ago
AurélieKwiziq team member
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 !

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

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BronwynC1Kwiziq community member

Expressions using ne expletive

Asked 2 years ago
AurélieKwiziq team member
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 !

Expressions using ne expletive

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FaridC1Kwiziq community member

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!
Asked 2 years ago
JanieC1Kwiziq community member
No
JanieC1Kwiziq community member
They re just spoken French - more casual style, not using the pas etc
JohannesC1Kwiziq community member
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.

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!

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