Ne explétif

French ne explétif
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Expletive ne

Don’t worry, it’s not a swear word. In French, explétif is a grammatical term

 Et je cite…

qui est usité sans nécessité pour le sens ou la syntaxe d’une phrase. (Source : Le Petit Robert)
"which is used without being needed for the meaning or syntax of a sentence."
(This meaning also exists in English)

So the ne explétif does not add any meaning – negative or otherwise – to the sentence; it’s just there to draw attention to what precedes it. It’s formal and optional, and used after certain verbs and expressions that have a negative meaning, in either sense of the word: negative as in bad (fear, warning) or negative as in negated (denial, doubt).

Par exemple…

Évitez qu’il ne vous voie.   Avoid letting him see you.
Avant que vous ne preniez une décision …   Before you make a decision …
J’ai moins de travail que vous n’en avez.   I have less work than you (do).
Rarement n’ai-je vu un tel spectacle.   I’ve rarely seen such a spectacle.

The most important thing to remember is that the ne explétif does not negate the verb it precedes; for that, you need pas.

  En comparaison…

J’ai peur qu’il ne le fasse.   I’m afraid he’ll do it.
J’ai peur qu’il ne le fasse pas.   I’m afraid he won’t do it.

 Confused by le in these examples? It’s a neuter object pronoun.

Complete list of ne explétif triggers

1) Verbs and expressions of doubt, fear, and prevention

  • appréhender que – to dread, fear that
  • avoir peur que – to be afraid that
  • contester que* – to dispute that
  • craindre que – to fear that
  • douter que* – to doubt that
  • empêcher que – to prevent that
  • éviter que – to avoid that
  • s’en falloir que – to almost (do/happen)
  • il dépend de (stressed or indefinite pronoun) que* – it depends on (him, this, etc) whether
  • il y a un danger que – there’s a danger that
  • il y a un risque que – there’s a risk that
  • mettre en doute que* – to question whether
  • nier que* – to deny that
  • prendre garde que – to be careful, to watch out that
  • redouter que – to dread that
  • risquer que – to risk, be at risk that
  • tenir à ce que* – to be anxious that, to insist that
  • trembler que – to be terrified that

 À noter : These all require the subjunctive.

* These call for the ne explétif only in negative or interrogative constructions.

2) Conjunctive phrases

 These phrases all require the subjunctive as well.

** Needs ne explétif only when the verb before sans que is negated.

3) Comparatives of inequality

  • autre que – other than
  • autrement que – differently than
  • meilleur que – better than
  • mieux que – best than
  • le moindre que – least that
  • moins que – less than
  • pire que – worse than
  • plus que – more than

 These might require the subjunctive and may be used with a neuter object pronoun (le).

4) Rarement, when it’s at the beginning of a sentence

Quiz: Ne explétif

 En aparté : There’s another ne that lives without pas, which I call the ne littéraire.

There are also many ways to use pas without ne.

 Related lessons

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Ne explétif - Non-negation in French

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