— Non ! Non ! Je ne veux pas d'un éléphant dans un boa. [...]

[ The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, 1943 ]

I'm 99% sure this means something like "I don't want an elephant inside a boa".

What is the purpose of "d'un", isn't that "of an" as in "I don't want of an elephant inside a boa"??

4 Answers 4


Ne pas vouloir de is something of an emphatic construction that specifically rejects a situation that could befall you for some reason, as here, because the Prince is being offered one.

This is why when you answer in the negative to a question with veux/voulez-vous [+ objet], the formulation is technically "Je n'en veux pas", where the en implies a phrase with de.

When you're saying "je ne veux pas" with a following noun phrase, you're usually implying that you want something else, which you're going to promptly explain. The de construction specifically rejects the possibility without implying anything further.

  • Would it be "less idiomatic" to answer Oui, j'en veux to a veux/voulez-vous question ? Is the negation really the point ? Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 20:19
  • The de here is specific to the negative. You'd answer Oui j'en veux only if asked, say Voulez-vous du potage?. That was only an example. Of course in either case people rarely actually use "vouloir" for themselves (it's a politeness thing, I believe, about not stating one's want explicitly). "Technically", not "normally" is the adverb I want there.
    – Circeus
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 22:56
  • Do you imply « Je veux de toi pour épouse. » ...doesn't exist, or is incorrect ? It seems to me the de here is not specific to the negative. Commented Jun 2, 2015 at 8:42
  • I'm and I hope I don,t sound like I am. To me the question relates mostly to the negative, and the two construction are not used in the same situations.
    – Circeus
    Commented Jun 3, 2015 at 0:13
  • So is it more common to respond to such questions with "Oui, j'en veux" or "Oui, je le veux"? Commented Feb 6, 2017 at 20:46

I'm 99% sure this means something like "I don't want an elephant inside a boa".

Not really. I think it means something more like "I want nothing to do with...", rather than "I don't want...". It's a rejection of the entire idea, not just an expression of not wanting it. A somewhat more literal translation might be I want nothing of it -- the "of it" is like the "d'un".

Romain & Circeus have answered this well. It's about vouloir de, not just vouloir.

I'd suggest that equivalent English, for the negation, is something along the lines of your not wanting to have anything to do with it.

"Je ne veux pas d'un elephant dans un boa" means, essentially, "I want nothing to do with any elephant that is inside a boa" (or "I want nothing to do with a boa that has an elephant inside it"). One might even be inclined to add, "I don't even want to think about it."

  • 1
    (+1) Very good point about the type of rejection it implies. Commented Jun 4, 2015 at 15:07
  • 1
    I too like your point and discussion about the added (total) negativity conveyed by “pas de + un” and how it translates nicely (and nearly literally, but for the missing/implied “rien”/”aucun”) to wanting “nothing/none of it.” Whether or not it’s the same concept, your discussion made me think immediately of the absolute negativity conveyed by “pas de” in the battle cry “[je ne veux ]Pas de ça chez moi !” (Not in my backyard), with ça meaning, of course, “un elephant ….” in this case. +1
    – Papa Poule
    Commented Jun 4, 2015 at 17:14

There are several meaning nuances for the verb “vouloir”. Here, your case corresponds to this one in Wiktionary :

  1. (vouloir de, généralement sous forme négative) Accepter, malgré des conditions ou des conséquences défavorables.

There’s the idea of acceptance and it is mainly use in the case where you refuse a proposal.

Some examples:

  • Je veux faire quelque chose = I want to do something

  • Je veux un ballon = I want (desir to have) a ballon

  • Je ne veux pas un ballon, je veux deux gateaux = I don’t want a ballon, I want two cakes (You are expressing a choice, a decision. In this context, after having said what you don’t want, you often say in addition what you do want. It can be another quantity or something else instead, or both something else and in another quantity)

  • Je ne veux pas d’un ballon, garde-le ! = I don’t want a ballon, keep it! (This is used in the case you refuse a proposal. The contracted version of the same sentence would be: Je n'en veux pas, garde-le ! = I don’t want it, keep it!)

PS : Dans ton cas, l'auteur donne au Petit Prince un dessin et ce dernier n'est pas content, il refuse le dessin et dit qu'il n'en veut pas.


It is one of the different possible constructions for the verb vouloir. (which is indeed one of these overused verbs which have a huge number of meanings and constructions)

Vouloir de [X] means "accepter [X]", which slightly differs from the main meaning of the verb. It is therefore used only to refer to something after it has been proposed to someone. Example : "Depuis une heure je lui explique que c'est plein de vitamines mais elle n'en veut pas !"

It can also be used to refer to someone rather than something, and sometimes it's an implied reference to wedding proposal. As in :

« Je te construirai un chateau si tu veux de moi ! »

More on this subject in the TLFi article here (II, A)


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