I was trying to mentally translate "I can't find it in any dictionary," which in English of course suggests I have checked multiple dictionaries without luck.

I got stuck on the "any"....is "Je ne puis le trouver dans de dictionnaires" correct? Because it feels completely wrong, strong hunch on that. Is n'importe quel dictionnaire the best option, maybe? Perhaps aucun dictionnaire?

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    Note that "Je ne puis ..." is very very formal. In real life, you would prefere "Je n'ai pu..." – Random Nov 10 '15 at 8:32
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    I’m not sure just how idiomatic they are or if they would mean exactly what you want to say, but if you wanted to keep “dictionaries” plural, maybe you could switch the word order a bit and add the notion of ‘consultés’: “Je n’en trouve aucune trace/mention dans des/[les] dictionnaires [que j’ai] consultés.”/ “je n'en ai trouvé aucune trace/mention dans les dictionnaires [que j’ai] consultés.” (‘en’ = ‘de ce/le mot’) Or “Aucun des dictionnaires [que j'ai] consultés ne mentionne ce mot/le mot ‘xxx’ ” Or “Ce mot/Le mot ‘xxx’ ne figure dans aucun des dictionnaires [que j'ai] consultés.” – Papa Poule Nov 10 '15 at 15:08
  • Wait, "je ne puis" is formal? WTF? I've been saying this constantly for years and nobody has said this. Is "Je puis..." formal too? Okay, making a question out of this shortly. Thank you for bringing it up. – temporary_user_name Nov 10 '15 at 15:22
  • Since less and less people seem to bother anymore with the formality of asking permission to leave the dinner table, even its inverted use with questions is in jeopardy of becoming obsolete! – Papa Poule Nov 10 '15 at 15:32
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    @Aerovistae Indeed, you can use present, but depends on the meaning you wish. "Je n'ai pu" means you stopped trying. "Je ne peux" means it is impossible for you to find it. Finally, the most common way to say it in France is "Je ne l'ai trouvé dans aucun dictionnaire.", as Relaxed answered. I'll answer about "Je puis" in your new question ;) – Random Nov 10 '15 at 16:50

It's common to say:

Je ne l'ai pas trouvé dans le dictionnaire.

It's singular and uses the definite article so it literally means “I did not find it in the dictionary” but I believe the French meaning is a little more ambiguous and you could still use it if you tried several dictionaries.

Speculating a bit, French speakers tend to consider that there is only one correct way to use the language. There are in fact several dictionary publishers making slightly different choices but we still say “le dictionnaire” all the time without specifying which one. The implication is that if it's a “real” word, then it should be in all of them, we don't have a clear concept of competing norms for the language (cf. also all the mythology around the role of the Académie française).

If you really want to explicitly stress that you looked at several dictionaries, then you have to use “aucun” as Nathan explained. However, “je ne puis” is extremely formal/outdated. You simply cannot say that without irony today.

A better translation for “I can't find it in any dictionary” is therefore:

Je ne peux le trouver dans aucun dictionnaire.

It still sounds quite formal, not necessarily as neutral as the English sentence. Using the past tense sounds better to my ears:

Je n'ai pu le trouver dans aucun dictionnaire.

Also, in French, it's usual to say “I did not find it” rather than “I can't find it”. A less faithful but even more idiomatic translation would therefore be:

Je ne l'ai trouvé dans aucun dictionnaire.

Finally, “n'importe quel dictionnaire” is actually correct but does not work in the negative. You can however say something like

Tu le trouveras dans n'importe quel dictionnaire.

Literally: “You will find it in any dictionary.”


Actually, "any" can have multiple translations depending on the meaning of your sentence.

Your sentence has a negation in it, so "any" would translate to "aucun", which means "none". But if your sentence was positive, it would translate to "n'importe quel".

Full sentence is: "Je ne puis le trouver dans aucun dictionnaire."

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    As noted by @Random, "ne ne puis" is very formal. I would translate the sentence as "Je ne le trouve dans aucun dictionnaire." – undu Nov 10 '15 at 11:37
  • Wow, really? Just "I do not find it in any dictionary" ? That's idiomatic? Still I learn new things every day. – temporary_user_name Nov 10 '15 at 16:26
  • @undu I meant to say je ne peux..., the usage of puis was accidental. Would the sentence be okay with peux, or is your phrasing still preferable? – temporary_user_name Nov 10 '15 at 16:32

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