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Complete post:

Sep

19

2013

ne - it isn't always 'negative'

It is often easier to think of ne as part of a combination

A listener emailed us this morning with the following message:

I find the n' difficult sometimes. In the Lesson 161, for example, its inclusion makes me feel like it should say the opposite.
  —>  "Ce n’est qu’une tempête dans un verre d'eau."
Am I missing something? Isn't he saying 'It's only a storm in a teacup?"

Let's take a closer look…

Rather than thinking of the word ne as a 'negative' in its own right, think of the combination ne… que as only or but.

So…

  • 'Ce n'est qu'une tempête…' 'It is only a storm…' or 'It is but a storm…'
  • Il ne nous reste qu'une seule solution. We have only one solution. (Literally 'There remains but one solution.')

Consider also:

  • Je n'ai que quelques euros à payer. I only have to pay a few euros./I have only a few euros to pay.

The combination ne… personne which (rather than being a 'negative') means nobody, behaves similarly:

  • Je n'ai vu personne. I saw nobody.
  • Personne ne m'écoute. Nobody listens to me.

To summarise, rather than considering ne in isolation, it's better to think of it as part of a combination:

  • ne… pas (no/not)
  • ne… que (only/but)
  • ne… jamais (never)
  • ne… personne (nobody)
  • ne… aucun (no - emphatically)

Comment(s)/question from georgechave on Nov, 21 at 03:32

This is very helpful.

Comment(s)/question from hughnagle on Nov, 21 at 09:09

You're welcome! Si vous avez des questions à nous poser vous-même, n'hésitez pas…

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