Table of Contents
§§33-35. The Negative
French has a very odd way of forming the negative, since it requires not one word, but two, which go on either side of the main verb: ne VERBE pas.
- Je ne suis pas professeur. (I am not a teacher.)
Originally, the ne (from unstressed Latin non) was the real negative sign, and the second particle was a mere reinforcer; but things have gotten to such a point that the second particle is now the more important of the two. In colloquial French, the ne can often be left out.
1. Negative adverbs
Four of these “second” particles are adverbs. They normally go immediately after the main (conjugated, personal) verb. In a “compound”-tense verb, the first verb (avoir or être) is the main/conjugated/personal verb.
- Je parle à ma tante. → Je ne parle pas à ma tante. (simple verb. parle is the personal verb.)
- J’ai parlé à ma tante. → Je n‘ai pas parlé à ma tante. (compound verb. ai is the personal verb.)
Meanwhile, the ne particle goes in front of the main verb, but also in front of any pronoun objects that end up in front of the main verb (this is the main place for them).
- On ne vous hait point. (One doesn’t hate you.)
These four negative adverbs are:
- pas. The most ordinary negative. Can be strengthened by an added du tout (at all).
A stronger substitute for pas is point. It does not however always call for a stronger translation: Je ne le connais point. (I don’t know him.)
- Je ne l’aime pas. Je ne l’aime pas du tout. (I don’t like him. I don’t like him at all.)
- plus = “no more” or “no longer”
- jamais = “never”
- guère = “scarcely, hardly.” Not to be confused with la guerre = “war.”
Another important thing about these four negative adverbs: they have an odd effect on a following partitive or indefinite article, changing the article to a simple “de.”
- Nous avons encore du vin. Nous n‘avons plus de vin. (We still have wine, we have more wine. We don’t have any more wine.)
- J’ai une auto. Je n‘ai pas d‘auto. (I have a car. I don’t have a car.)
You may consult Reduction of the Partitive Article.
2. Negative Pronouns & Negative Adjectives
The negative pronouns are rien, personne. The negative adjectives are aucun(e), nul(le).
These four negative particles can go wherever a noun needs to go in a sentence; so, not only in the direct-object position, after the verb–
- Je ne vois rien. (I see nothing = I don’t see anything.)
- Je ne vois personne. (I see no one = I don’t see anyone.)
- Je ne vois nul homme. (I see no [= not a single] man = I don’t see any man.)
- Je ne vois aucun homme. (Ditto.)
but also in the subject position–
- Rien ne m’intéresse. (Nothing interests me.)
- Personne ne m’aime. (Nobody loves me.)
- Aucun de mes amis ne m’a téléphone. (None of my friends called me.)
- Nul effort ne vous sauvera. (No effort will save you.)
and as object of a preposition–
- Je ne parle à personne. (I’m speaking to no one = I’m not speaking to anyone.)
- Je ne pense à rien. (I’m thinking of nothing = I’m not thinking of anything.)
- Je ne m’occupe d’aucun problème. (I’m not taking care of any problem.)
Note that the ne stays in its usual place in front of the verb.
3. Negative Conjunction
The negative conjunction is ni…ni (neither…nor).
This is one of the many possible functions of que, all of which you will eventually need to be handy with. What the Author says here is true, namely, that if a sentence has a ne, but not any other negative particle following, and if you then come across a que, chances are you are dealing with a ne…que construction.
What I like to say about the que of ne…que is that it excludes from the negative everything that follows it. The negative introduced by ne is in force in the sentence, up until the que. It is therefore similar to the way we use “but/save/except”:
- Il n’existe que trois manières d’entrer dans le Pays de Gorre. (There exist but three means of entry into the Land of Gorre.)
- Il n’y a qu’un seul moyen de nous sauver. (There is but one way to save us. There is no way to save us, save one. There is no way to save us, except one.)
But the French use the ne…que construction much more frequently than we do our “but/save/except”. Most of the time, in translating, you should simply 1) forget about the “ne”; 2) translate the que as “only,” and put the “only” in the English where the que was in the French, to avoid mistranslations.
- Je ne prends le petit déjeuner que le lundi. (I eat breakfast only on Mondays.)
- Je ne prends que le petit déjeuner le lundi. (I eat only breakfast on Mondays.)
French will sometimes also use the adverb seulement. The following sentences have exactly the same meaning:
- Il n’a que trois fils. Il a seulement trois fils. (He has only three sons.)
For more on negative particles, including the ne…que construction, see Negative Particles and Ne…Que and What You Can Do With It.
§37. Irregular verb tenir
Learn the pronunciation of this verb. It has three “stems” in the present. The singular forms sound one way; the nous and vous forms have another stem, and the ils/elles form has a third stem.
To hear it, try this YouTube clip, or this mp3 file (from Français interactif) for the very similar-sounding verb venir:
Though the Author has not introduced either the future or the past definite tense, he gives you the 3rd-person forms of these tenses for tenir.
Learn this verb and its derivatives on p47.
When no context is provided, the decision whether to translate an action verb with simple present or present progressive depends on what you imagine the likely context for the verb to be, a matter on which disagreement can occur.
1. they are measuring / they are not measuring / they never measure
2. they are / they are not / they are scarcely / they are never
3. She is studying. / She is not studying. / She is not studying any more = She is no longer studying. / She does nothing but study (= All she does is study = She only studies.)
4. he has / he does not have / He has nothing (= He doesn’t have anything). / He has only three specimens (samples).
5. they have / they don’t have / They have nothing (= They don’t have anything). / They have no program (= They don’t have any program).
6. He is studying. / He scarcely studies. / She never studies. / Normally she studies only computer science.
7. he (it) holds (is holding) / he (it) doesn’t hold (isn’t holding) / He (it) holds nothing (= doesn’t hold anything). / He (it) will scarcely hold (idiomatically: He/It will scarcely hold out, hold up, last).
8. they obtain (are obtaining) / they never obtain / They will obtain nothing (= They won’t obtain anything).
9. he entertains OR he/it maintains, keeps up / He isn’t entertaining anything OR It isn’t keeping anything up. / He is entertaining only one single hypothesis.
10. he is preparing / He is not preparing for his exam.1 / They are not preparing anything.
11. They are not preparing any experiment. / They are preparing only a compiling program.
12. There are none but good students in the class (= There are only good students in the class). / They do nothing but work.
13. These trains do not transport freight. / They transport only passengers.
14. This train transports only passengers between Paris and Nice. / These trucks contain only boxes.
15. This event does not happen often. / It happens usually only after vacation.
16. The supersonic airplane is not arriving before six o’clock. / It never arrives late.
17. The students are finishing their homework. / They are finishing only a part of their homework.
18. George never finishes. / He never finishes anything.
19. He insists on studying. / Paul insists on never studying.
20. We insist on making a lot of money (We really want to, We are eager to…). / This man is poor: he has no money (= he doesn’t have any money). / He has neither money nor a home.
21. There is a good method. / There is only a single effective method. / He has no method (= He doesn’t have any method.)
22. There remains a complication (…one complication). / There remains only a single complication.
23. It may be that Robert will arrive2 tomorrow. / It is impossible that he should (that he will) arrive2 on time.
24. The Louvre is located (is found; is) in Paris. / It is not located in London. / Jean-Paul insists on seeing this museum.
25. This professor scarcely speaks of his chemical experiments. / He refuses to discuss the subject (? = He insists on not discussing…)
26. Nitrogen supports neither combustion nor respiration.
27. The young princess is not guilty of a crime, but not a single knight is going down to the lists for her.
Again, I leave to you whether to underline and put into parentheses the way the Author enjoins you to do.
28. There is no (There isn’t any) radioactive substance in this material.
29. There is nothing important (There isn’t anything important) in this article.
30. It’s a matter of a new economic theory; it’s not a matter of an atomic bomb.
31. There remains only one simple but interesting case.
32. Sometimes the North Sea is completely calm and placid; consequently there aren’t any waves.
33. We have noticed no (We haven’t noticed any) difference of structure (structural difference?).
34. His experiment / contains / includes / only two parts.
35. There are only two parts that it is necessary to study at the beginning.
36. Ordinarily one praises only in order to be praised. (La Rochefoucauld!)
37. Often the mercy of princes is only (nothing but) a policy to win the affection of the masses.
38. The love of justice is only the fear of suffering injustice.
39. The love of justice is, in most human beans, only the fear of suffering injustice.
40. He is asking only for the favor of which he spoke (has spoken).
Demander is “to ask” for a thing or a piece of information.
- Il a demandé du pain. (He asked for [some] bread.)
- Il a demandé mon nom. (He asked for my name.)
- Il a demandé pourquoi nous le méprisons. (He asked why we despise him.)
41. Man no longer concerns himself with the impenetrable essence(s) of things.
42. But it is only in the 17th century that the revolution is accomplished and triumphs with Kepler, Bacon, and Descartes.
Here, in 42, is an early example (for this book) of what I call the Isolating-Emphasizing Construction (other call it “focus”). The sentence is also a good example of the French fondness for the historical present.
43. Pierre Fermat, who was the most powerful mathematical mind of his time, didn’t publish anything (published nothing).
44. He agrees (allows, admits) that instinct can be a guide in this matter, but that isn’t sufficient.
45. They are no longer building (any) good concert halls; you can manage to do that only through a very serious study of acoustics.
46. Haydn wrote 18 symphonies; the complete collection, in very exact copies, is in the library of our Conservatory.
47. Many of them are only mere divertissements (entertainments), written on a day-by-day basis for the little concerts of Prince Esterhazy.
 Attraction or gravity.—From Kepler’s first law one can deduce (there can be deduced) the existence of a force directed towards the center of the sun.  The law of elliptical movement, or the expression of the speed deduced from this law, shows that the intensity of this force varies according to the distance from (to) the sun.  The intensity of the force known as gravity varies in inverse proportion to the square of the distance from the sun.  Finally, Kepler’s third law shows that, at an equal distance from the sun, the intensity of the driving force is proportional to the mass of each planet and independent of the particular nature of this planet.  All bodies in nature attract each other in direct proportion to the square of the distance (between them).  But celestial bodies act on each other and on the sun itself, and from these differing attractions perturbations result.  The study of these forces is called celestial mechanics, an important part of astronomy; it is the study of the theory of the movements of stars (heavenly bodies).
 pesanteur universelle – As the Author says (in a note on page 49), the proper translation is just “gravity,” since the modern (Newtonian) idea of gravity is precisely that all bodies, anywhere in the universe, possess it (in some degree and in relation to other bodies). But before Newton’s day such a universal principle was not known. Pesanteur by itself means, at least in non-Newtonian contexts, simply “weight” or “heaviness.”
 De la première loi de Kepler – Note that the translation of de here has to be “from,” given its use with the verb déduire.
 ou l’expression de la vitesse qui se déduit de cette loi – I have simplified the syntax from “or the expression of the speed (that is OR that can be) deduced from this law.”
[50, 52] raison – Learn this meaning of French la raison, together with the expressions en raison de = “in proportion to,” en raison direct de = “in direct proportion to,” and en raison inverse de = “in inverse proportion to.” The French word (from which we derive our English “reason”) does come, after all, from Latin ratio, the meanings of which include “ratio, proportion.”
 astres – French un astre is any kind of heavenly body (sun, star, planet, moon, comet…).
 This science has as its object (The object of this science is) size insofar as it is measurable or calculable.  Elementary mathematics is the part of mathematics that includes arithmetic or other basic ideas of this science.  Algebra, higher algebra3, and geometry are classified as parts of pure mathematics, that is, mathematics dealing with size in an abstract way.
 Cette science a pour objet – See the sentences 35 and 47 in Chapter 04, and the note after 35 on this construction. See also, in the present chapter,  below: La géométrie est une science qui a pour but…
 comprend – Review the meanings of comprendre, discussed in Irregular Verb Groupings: prendre. See also .
 d’une manière abstraite – Note how French says “in such-and-such a way”: d’une manière + adjective (feminine singular).
 The science of applied mathematics includes mechanics and astronomy, which consider the properties of size in certain bodies or subjects.
 “Quantity” and “size” are terms used to refer to whatever (everything that) can be increased or decreased. The lengths, surfaces, volumes of bodies, etc., are quantities.
In , tout ce qui is literally “all that which.” The author here slips in the “indefinite relative pronoun,” which, if you so desire, you can read about here and here. (You’ll have to learn about these forms some day, but that day need not be now.)
 Arithmetic is the science of numbers, while algebra has the purpose4 of generalizing and shortening (simplifying?) the solving of questions about quantities in general.  Geometry is a science with the purpose5 of measuring size (extension), the three dimensions of which are length, width, and depth.  Lastly, there is infinitesimal calculus (integral calculus and differential calculus) which aids in the study6 of the variation of functions.
The Practical Mind of the Americans (Chateaubriand) p50
François-René de Chateaubriand (1768-1848) was a principal French romantic writer of the early 19th century. In 1791, when he was in his early 20s, he spent a brief period traveling in the U.S. (less than six months), which sufficed to make him an authority on the place and its peoples.
 One must not look in the United States for what distinguishes man from the other beings of creation, for what is his essence of immortality and the ornament of his days.  Literature is unknown in the new republic.  The American has replaced the intellectual operations with the positive7 operations; do not impute to an inferiority on his part [lui] his mediocrity in the arts, for it is not on this side that he has directed his attention.  Cast through various reasons onto an uninhabited soil, agriculture and trade have been his sole concerns.8  Before thinking, one must live; before planting trees, one must chop them down in order to plow the earth.
 ll ne faut pas chercher – On this construction, see Chapter 4, §31.D, page 37, where one finds that il ne faut pas + infinitive = “You must NOT (do something).” In  we have the positive use: il faut vivre… il faut les abattre…
 ce qui – Once again (see  above) we encounter the indefinite relative pronoun. ce qui = “that which” = “what.”
 êtres – When it is used as a plural countable noun, the French infinitive être typically refers, not to just any kind of existent, but more specifically to living beings, rather as if êtres were standing in for êtres vivants. (The same could perhaps be said of English “beings”; see OED, being, noun, 4d.)
 de ce côté – “On this side” (e.g., of the street) = usually de ce côté-ci; “on that side” = de ce côté-là.
 désert – Whether a noun or an adjective, French désert does not automatically refer to a dry place, but an uninhabited place. Un désert = “a wilderness.” Hence you will find the narrator in the Abbé Prévost’s Manon Lescaut referring to le désert de la Louisiane.
 In the new continent there is neither classical literature, nor romantic literature, nor native literature;  there is no classical literature, because9 (the) Americans have no models; there is no romantic literature, because the Americans have no Middle Ages; as for native literature, the Americans despise the savages and are horrified by the woods as by a prison.
 classique,… romantique,… indienne,… – Notice how, thanks to the peculiar intonation patterns of French, a single word (classique, romantique, indienne). suspended in the air as it were (on a high pitch, and with a considerable pause), is able to stand in for an entire clause.
 (whole sentence) – “there is no classical literature”: One of the ideas of French classicism was that the ancients did such an excellent job that a modern artist would do best at least to begin by imitating them. If you have no models, then, it follows that you can have no classical literature. “there is no romantic literature”: Characteristic of the romantic movement in its early days was a new appreciation for the Middle Ages. If the Americans have any history at all, it does not reach back that far; so, no romantic literature for them.
 What one finds in America is applied literature, serving the diverse uses of society.  (The) Americans have scarcely any success save in mechanics and the sciences, because the sciences have a material side.  Franklin and Fulton took hold of lightning and steam for the advantage of men.  It fell to America to endow the world with the discovery thanks to which no continent henceforth may escape the incursions of the navigator.
 Ce qu’on trouve en Amérique, c’est… – Ce qu(e) is the indefinite relative pronoun again (see [59, 63]): ce que = “that which” = “what.” Note how the first element, ce, is repeated when we get to the verb: c‘est. In translation you skip the second ce. For more examples, see here.
 Les Américains ne réussissent guère que dans… – In this clause we have combined, guère = “scarcely” and “the que that excludes from the negation.” See, again, The NE that excludes from negation, When Negative Particles Accumulate, and NE…QUE Combined with Other Negative Particles.
 se sont emparés – S’emparer (de) is a pronominal verb (what the Author calls a reflexive verb) of the fourth category (see Idiomatic or Subjective Pronominal Verbs). It means “take hold of = grab, take possession of, take control of.” It is in the tense you will come to know as the passé composé.
- The French “prepare an exam,” whereas we English-speakers prepare for an exam.↩
- The verb arrive in this sentence is in the subjunctive mood.↩↩
- Literally, “high algebra.”↩
- Literally, a pour but = “has for (its) end.”↩
- Literally, qui a pour but = “which has for (its) end.”↩
- qui sert à étudier = more literally “which serves to study (in studying).”↩
- “Positive” is here contrasted with “intellectual,” and so means something like “practical” or “pragmatic.”↩
- Literally, “the object of his cares.”↩
- Or, closer to the French: “as for classical literature, the Americans have no models.”↩
I’m not hearing much in the way of different pronunciations in the video clip. Am I missing something?
Mad Beppo says
The person speaking in the clip for “venir” does go rather quickly. Try this YouTube clip offered by a person called “Alexa”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LdCEVRBewUE .