1. Forum
  2. >
  3. Topic: French
  4. >
  5. "Il semble qu'elle ne puisse …

"Il semble qu'elle ne puisse venir."

Translation:It seems that she is not able to come.

August 11, 2015



Why is it not "Il semble qu'elle ne puisse pas venir"?


It's called the "ne littéraire", and there are seven verbs that do not need «pas» (it's optional, you can still use it).



Sorry, no, it is not the literary "ne", it is a negative sentence and "pas" is omitted because you can do so with the verb "pouvoir".


Isn't it what is said in the link above?

"Cesser, oser, and pouvoir never need pas"


It does not say "never", it says that in a more formal register, these verbs can allow for "ne" without its usual "pas".


yes,but I find it difficult to distinguish this from the redundant/pleonastic 'ne'. Personnally I would never use either but I'm a barmy old loon...regards James.


Well I just copy/pasted


So you can do without "pas" on these verbs but you don't have to???


Yes, it is only a literary option.


For the same translation, can one also say: "Il semble qu'elle ne peut pas venir." or "Il semble qu'elle ne peut venir."


I think "semble" requires the subjunctive here.


Both can be used (depending on the context), but the subjunctive is probably more commonly used.


Okay but... how do you differentent this use of 'ne' by itself from when it means only?

I translated it as "It seems that only she is able to come," because the only past experience I've had with ne by itself is when it means only.


By itself "ne" does not mean a thing.

"Ne" can be used in negations in conjunction with other words: ne... pas, ne... plus, ne... jamais, ne... aucun, ne... personne

"Ne" can be used together with "que" to mean only: "Je n'ai que des fleurs jaunes" = I have yellow flowers only.

"Ne" can be expletive which means "optional and not negative" to smooth a sentence in a few cases, like this one: "Je me prépare avant qu'elle ne vienne" (I'm getting ready before she comes).


Why does this speaker do something I've never heard a French speaker do? He pronounces "puisse" as "puiss -uh", here and consistently. Without context, it makes him very hard to understand. Is there a region where this is done? The overemphasis makes it sound like "puisse souvenir."


Thanks. I work with loads of native French speakers, primarily from France and Switzerland, and not a single one of them speaks like the oft-used person by DuoLingo. I'd argue their speaker isn't using a schwa - too much stress on the vowel! It may be regional, but it doesn't seem to be very common.


The schwa was the reason I thought it said "Il semble qu'elle ne puisse souvenir." If I may say so, I read all your comments in this thread as always. You are a really good teacher Sitesurf. I have learned so much about French from your comments. Please accept a verbal bouquet of roses.


Agreed - where is the "pas"? What is the rule on this?


You can omit the "pas" with "être" and "pouvoir".


"Être" and "pouvoir" behave differently, you can (almost) always omit the "pas" with "pouvoir", while you can only omit it in specific context (such as after "il semble que") with "être".


But then in informal speech many French speakers also omit the 'ne'. So does that mean it's possible to have a negated verb with neither 'ne' nor 'pas'?


No, we omit the "pas" in formal speech with specific verbs and the "ne" in informal speech with all the verbs, we never omit both.


"Il semble qu'elle ne puisse pas venir" is also correct. You can sometimes omit the "pas" but it is difficult for me to give you a rule for that. However, except in very particular cases, you will not be wrong if you add the "pas".


I understand that the subjunctive has more use in American English than in British English nowadays, which I imagine is why most speakers of BrE would not know what you're talking about. I still say "If I were you" but many of my contemporaries in this part of SE England do a double-take when they hear it. But then the local default is "We was there yesterday. Was you?".

If I were you is probably the only (relatively) common use of the subjunctive left in the UK. I have heard " I may come, if it be possible" but this use is regarded as eccentric, if not deranged.


I think the most common use of the subjunctive in common english is the second part of statements that begin "it is important that" or words to that effect.

like "it's important that he try to attend tomorrow" "it's vital that i be there before 1pm" etc etc.

usually using a slightly different conjugation of the present tense version of the verb. But that is a very common use of subjunctive in the English nowadays.


"qu'elles ne puissent venir" should be accepted


I thought that the ne explétif (common in literary French) has a non negative value. This is an actual DL example (they both mean the same). "Il faut le trouver avant qu'elle ne rentre" and "Il faut le trouver avant qu'elle NE rentre"


Unfortunately, even if you are right on this rule, the verb "pouvoir" is an exception, because in any mood or tense, it can be negative with a simple "ne" (so, "pas" is optional) with a negative meaning.

However, just note that "je ne peux le trouver" is rather formal or literary and people do use "pas" - even without "ne" in speech, like "je peux pas le trouver".


Hello sitesurf,can you help me with an issue?i recently had to translate a sentence:My friend changes the toilets often(the solution in my book is "Mon amie change souvent de toilette.My question is...why "de toilette and not des toilettes"since it is clearly plural


I am not sure which language came first in your exercise, but "changer de toilette" means "change chothes".

"changer les toilettes" does not mean much to me, for it would be about the toilet bowl or flushing system... it looks really strange.


@madredomo - I had exactly the same question, and Sitesurf explains the exception (another one to confuse us). But shouldn't your first quote have omitted the 'ne': "Il faut le trouver avant qu'elle rentre." ?


Very useful conversation site. I learned the subjunctive back in high school though Latin, which is structured somewhat like French. This use of "pas" (or not) is a good example of small chaotic differences in a less than perfect world. I look forward to my daily lessons, in French especially. Ah! life's uncertainties!


Elle puisse and elles puissent sound the same.


Is "It seems that she is not able to come" in the subjunctive form of English? Shouldn't it be "It seems that she not be able to come"? That seems weird, doesn't it?


English seems not to use the subjunctive in this construction. However, we could say 'it seems as though she were not able to come', where we would use the subjunctive to compare the actual state of affairs with a hypothetical situation introduced by 'as though'. But the subjunctive in English is a slippery beast, at best.


Why not "elle ne peut venir"? I'm not sure I understood the meaning of this unit and there is no explenation in the beggining :/


This may help you to get started with the French subjunctive: http://www.frenchtoday.com/blog/understanding-french-subjunctive


The subjunctive is required after 'il semble que'.


Can someone explain the reason that "il" cannot refer to him and instead must be interpreted as "it" in this case! Thanks in advance!


When you say "il semble que", "il" never refers to a particular person, it always means "it seems that". Without the "que', "il semble" can be translated by "he seems"


Thanks, I was starting to get that idea as I did more exercises. Thanks for the confirmation!


What would "he seems that she cannot come" mean, by the way?


I suspect that I was also translating 'seems that' as the idea 'feels like' which admittedly is a huge problem among english-native youth. Furthermore, it's always nice to understand or have a reason as to why something is the way it is rather than just having a guess esp when trying to learn!


I know nothing about the "huge problem" you are alluding to.

In any event, "feels like" would be quite different in French:

  • il sent qu'elle ne pourra pas venir.


I've noticed that they have removed the "other" category of reports.


impossible de saisir la bonne reponse. elle est tout le temps fausse


Si c'est une question à choix multiples, il y en a probablement 2 justes et dans ce cas, il faut cocher toutes les options valides.


il semble qu'elles ne puissent venir was not accepted for the listening exercise


«Il semble qu'elles ne puissent pas venir» Comment savoir si c'est ce que l'audio dit?


Be the subject in singular or plural, the audio does not use "pas".


Il semble qu'elle ne puisse venir. - I thought that this "ne" did NOT make the verb negative - It seems that she is able to come. If you want it to be negative,add the "pas. Il semble qu'elle ne puisse pas venir. It seems that she can't come.


See the answer of sitesurf to madremono above.


The "ne" appears to be pleonastic, so it is a part of the subjunctive construction and not part of a negation.


No, the "ne" is not pleonastic, since it would mean that it is superfluous, which is not the case.

This sentence is negative (she cannot come), but instead of having "ne... pas" to form the negation, you only have "ne".

With the verb "pouvoir" (and a small list of other verbs), when you use a negative formula, you can omit the "pas".

  • Il semble qu'elle ne puisse (pas) venir: with or without "pas" the sentence has the same meaning.


So omission of -pas for these specified verbs is allowed, but using -pas would be still be correct? In other words, the use of -pas with these verbs is optional?


Yes, precisely.


it is part of the negation


Does "ne" not have a non-negative function here -- being used instead as a result of the subjunctive -- and therefore the English would be "It seems that she /is/ able to come"? If the negative meaning is intended, then why is there no "pas"?


The "ne" has actually a negative function. The "pas" is not mandatory with some verbs such as "pouvoir" or "vouloir".


"Vouloir" is not on the list. The other verbs which can omit "pas" in the negative are: cesser, oser, bouger, daigner, manquer and savoir.


Indeed, I wrote too quickly, sorry.


"cannot" or "can't" just as likely to be used as "is not able to"


I write "Ils semblent quelle ne puisse venir"... which should be wrong, but it passed.. so i come to see the answer


Translate it back to English: "they seem she cannot come" cannot work.
Also "qu'elle" is in two words.
I can't figure out how the system could swallow these.


'May not be able' is subjunctive like puisse!


Does this work?
It seems that she could not come.


I don't think so, because "qu'elle ne puisse venir" is in the present tense and "could" would be ambiguous as to its conditional present or past simple form.

"Qu'elle ne puisse venir" only means "that she [cannot/won't be able to] come".


Thankyou anyway Sitesurf


Il semble qu'il ne puisse venir !


"Il" and "elle" are pronounced differently. Don't you hear "elle" before "ne puisse"?

Learn French in just 5 minutes a day. For free.