Ok let me get this straight. I know in French we always have to use double negation and as far as I know it is "ne... pas" so When I saw this sentence I thought it should be "Rien n'est pas éternel", but by what I'm reading in the comments below it looks like "Rien" acts as a form of negation in the sentence so "Pas" isn't needed! thats why it is "Rien n'est éternel" is that correct?
yes, in a regular, fully grammatical phrase a negative would be 'n'est pas' = is not. n'est rien = is nothing (thing how that is a different negative, that stemmed from 'is no thing' two words). n'est jamais = is never (is not ever). n'est que = is only (this IS a type of negative, where it rejects everything except the subject). n'est personne = is no one (no person). n'est aucun = is not any. 'n'est _ ni __' = is neither nor.
these negatives come in pairs/sets, called 'circumfixes' or 'circumflexes' (type of affix). BUT because they ARE separate words, they can be arranged in different ways around the verb/sentence for different types of, hence, idiomatic inflection or emphasis.
In English, there is no double negation, but in French double negation is everywhere (there may be few exceptions in both languages). Where just one word ("no", "never", "nothing" etc.) is enough in English, French needs "ne" + something ("pas", "jamais", "rien" etc). When you translate negatives, don't forget that except for the most basic situations the English word translate to two words in French. So the literal translation is not "Nothing is not eternal", but "Nothing is eternal" (btw. the second is accepted)..
That's what I was talking about. In English you have to choose between "anything is not eternal" and "nothing is eternal" - one negative word means the sentence is negative, and two negative words wouldn't make sense, or at least would be strange. On the other hand in French, each negative sentence needs two negative words - "ne" and some other one, in this case "rien" (nothing).
You can understand "rien" as "anything", but it's not exact. Better approach to learn this is to understand "ne" as part of the negative word - French needs this second word for double negation (two negative words per negative sentence), but "ne" should be omitted while translating from French, and is must be added when you translate a sentence with any negative word. "Ne" is linked to a verb, so only case (as far as I know) where you omit it is when there's no verb.
You know how you're told that sentences like "I can't get no satisfaction" are ungrammatical, but they still make perfect sense? It's only standard English that doesn't allow double negation, many kinds of colloquial English do. Well, standard French allows it too (requires it, in fact). Think of it as "Ain't nothin' eternal" and maybe it'll be easier to wrap your head around.
It's not really an idiom - idioms are things like "kick the bucket", where the literal meaning is completely different from the intended, commonly understood figurative meaning. This is just an ordinary phrase.
Seems like there's two arguments going on here: one's about the translation, going from a common French phrase (I assume!) to a common English phrasing that's roughly equivalent. It's not idiom because if someone said 'nothing is eternal' to you in English it would be obvious what they meant from the literal meaning, it's just that the (probably) more common phrase people use is 'nothing lasts forever'. It's just fashion and familiarity, and this section is really about phrases and proverbs as well as idioms.
The other argument's about grammar - French deals with negation in a different way, it's purely a technical grammar issue. When translating to English you have to unpack that, and recast it according to the English rules. It's not correct to say the actual translation is "nothing is not eternal", even if you can translate each of the individual words that way in isolation. It would be like translating English questions that begin with "do" and trying to put some version of faire in there.
I know some of this has been covered and realised and whatever, just putting it all in one place for anyone wandering through!
Hi, SongbirdSandra. I was just thinking time and date stamps would be very helpful. Some of the comments have been OBE'd (Overtaken By Events, not Order of the British Empire). In other words (autrement dit), reports of incorrect translations, as the largest example, have been resolved since the original question was posted, which may have been quite some time back. Many of the discussions concerning particular phrases are out of date and could be misleading, EXCEPT for the tips from Our Esteemed Moderators. I know DL is probably working on a shoestring, but I believe there are some computer gurus-in-residence who could put a fix on this "date issue" tout de suite.
Just seconding Carla May's good information, and adding to it a bit.
From the online version of French for Dummies - the section on building negative sentences:
Rien (nothing) and personne (nobody) can sometimes be the subject of the verb, like in English. In that case, start the sentence with either one of those words and proceed regularly with ne in front of the conjugated verb.
Rien n’est important (Nothing is important)
Personne ne fait la vaisselle (Nobody does the dishes).
Here’s the formula:
Rien or Personne + ne + verb.
Thanks, you guys! I've just read through all of these comments, and found myself asking the same questions, scrolling down, and then seeing the answers. You lot are mindreaders. Now you're probably wishing that there was private post, so you didn't have to show your comment to everyone, including me, and then find idiotic (and irrelevant) comments and wrong answers, probably by me, to your perfectly good (and relevant) questions and comments.
This is exactly what the comments section should be about though! People discussing and learning things. I always look in here if I get something wrong and I'm not sure why, or if I'm just curious about a bit of language and want to see if anyone's explained it - and generally they have!
Believe me, it's a lot better than endless comments like 'I said this answer and got it right'
If you do the random 'strengthen my skills' activity it has a tendency to pick a handful of phrases and make you do all the variations of them, yeah. Translate to French! Translate to English! Type what you hear! Type again with some pictures!
It might happen with some of the earlier lessons too, where you only get a few phrases or words to learn, but it happens less as you open up the tree a bit. Still happens though...