Ne explétif

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.
Le Petit Robert de la langue française
"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.

Ne explétif  triggers

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

  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.

**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
  • moindre que – least than
  • 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.

 Related lessons

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Ne explétif - Non-negation in French
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4 Responses

  1. Chris Ostrom 19 April 2018 / 16:57

    Does the set phrase “jusqu’à ce que” trigger the ne éxpletif?

    • lkl 20 April 2018 / 5:33

      No, the above is the complete list of ne explétif triggers.

  2. Kevin Cohen 16 December 2016 / 13:34

    So, can you get consecutive subjunctives when you have an expression that takes the subjunctive and expletive ne, and the complement of that expression is a verb that takes a sentential complement? For example:

    Je vais rester chez moi, à moins que tu ne veuilles que je vienne avec ?

    • lkl 16 December 2016 / 14:02

      Yes, though using the formal ne explétif with the informal tu and technically grammatically incorrect (and therefore familiar) preposition at the end is a bit off-putting. 🙂