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  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).



It is indeed 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


It says that they don't need it. But it doesn't mean that it's a mistake to use it


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


Yes, it is only a formal option.


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).

In the sentence here, "il semble qu'elle ne puisse (pas) venir", because the verb is "pouvoir", "pas" is optional for a stylistic effect, but the sentence is negative.


But 8f ne doesnt mean a thing, how did that sentence become negative? Am I doomed to confusion?


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.

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Site surf, could you please help this https://forum.duolingo.com/comment/23595205

it is regarding " à mains nues" versus " avec les mains nues".


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.


The Brits have totally dropped that. Very annoying.


Why can't I tranbslate it to "Its seems that she can't come" ?


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.


Why is "unable" or "cannot" or "can't" not accepted? Never in familiar speech in English would I say " she is not able to come"


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." ?


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


"qu'elles ne puissent venir" should be accepted


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


Greetings Sitesurf, hope all is well with you!

After reading up on the expression il semble que, it seems to me that

a) the given French phrase, using the subjunctive, should be translated as "It seems that she might not be able to come; and

b) Duo's preferred English translation "It seems that she is not able to come" (factual statement) would back translate as "Il semble qu'elle ne peut venir".

Have I understood this properly?


"Il semble que" needs the subjunctive because the degree of uncertainty is high:

  • Il semble qu'elle ne puisse venir (might not be able to come)

"Il me semble que" used the indicative because I say it when I'm pretty sure she will not come (I remember she or sb else told me she is not coming):

  • Il me semble qu'elle ne peut pas venir.


Thank you, I think I understand now.


Hi Sitesurf, you can find examples of "il semble que" in the Larousse


("Il semble que tout va bien.")

See also :



Thanks for the links. You have probably seen as I have that all examples with "il semble que" + indicative are in the affirmative.
Don't you think that "il semble que" followed by a negated verb should be in the subjunctive?


Indeed, there are only examples in the affirmative form. That's a good question and I did not find any references that could confirm or infirm that. I would say that indicative could also be used with a negated verb :

il semble qu'il n"est pas chez lui

seems correct for me. However, I would always used the subjunctive after the negation of "semble" :

Il ne semble pas qu'il soit chez lui.


Thank you Sitesurf.

The problem is that the given English phrase does not carry doubt. It is what I would answer to "Where is Alice?" ... "It seems that she is not able to come". If there were a doubt, I would use the "... she might not be able to..." formulation.

Regarding the French, I wonder, with DiazJulien, if the fact that it is not "sembler" but "pouvoir" that is being negated allows for both "puisse" and "peut", depending on context?


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.


This is my issue. I've translated this as "He feels that she can't come." Which in my mind is basically saying the same thing, but I guess "it seems" and "he feels" are just different enough.


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.

  • 1227

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.


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"?


I'm feeling confused about this situation!


"It looks like she's not going to be able to come" is EXACTLY the same thing as the "right" answer in 'Murikan English....


why don't you accept she is unable?


Why can't you say "It seems that she cannot come."


May 2020 ‘It seems that she will be unable to come’ should be acceptable ( see sitesurf comment of 3 months ago: won’t be able to come= will be unable to come)


It sounds like "v'nir", not "venir"...


why "it looks like that she cannot come" isn't the same thing?


The correct answer said "cant" (negative)

Isn't this the ne explétif? Why is this negative?


'il semble' is never followed by "ne expletif", when a "ne" follows 'il semble', it is always the negation.


Oh, so it's the ne littéraire rather than the ne explétif. Now I'm confused. I thought I have really understood the ne littéraire and accepted that a lot of sentences marked me wrong for omitting the "pas" for a negated pouvoir. How can I know if the ne littéraire is allowed?


It depends on the verbs after the "ne", it is allowed with cesser, oser, pouvoir, bouger, daigner, manquer and savoir". The most common is with "pouvoir", in common french, you will not see it often for the six other


Yes, I also thought that "pouvoir" allows ne littéraire, but there are some sentences here that mark me wrong for omitting the "pas" after a conjugated pouvoir. In its case, when and when not to ne littéraire for pouvoir?


Theoretically, you can always use the "ne" littéraire with pouvoir. In practice, it is more complicated. Unfortunately, I am not able to give you a precise rule for this. For example I would not say "je pense que tu ne peux le faire", though it is grammatically correct.


What is wrong with can't ??!!


Why is it not il semble qu'elle ne peut venir


"Il semble que" needs the next verb in the subjunctive (puisse) because the degree of uncertainty is high enough.

"Il me semble qu'elle ne peut (pas) venir" has "peut" in the indicative because it is my opinion and the uncertainty is low.


It seems she couldn't come.

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