The question is on this sentence from L'Étranger by Camus. It is describing a scorching summer sky.

Il m'a semblé que le ciel s'ouvrait sur toute son étendue pour laisser pleuvoir du feu.

Which way of understanding du feu is correct?

  1. du is a partitive article. du feu is the subject of pleuvoir, i.e. it is what rains. laisser pleuvoir du feu means "letting fire rain."

  2. du is a partitive article. du feu is the object of pleuvoir, which is a transitive verb here; i.e. du feu is what gets poured. laisser pleuvoir du feu means "allowing the pouring of fire" or "allowing fire to be poured." We don't find out who or what is doing the pouring.

  3. du is a contraction of de le. du feu is a prepositional complement of pleuvoir and describes the manner of raining or pouring. (de feu can be compared to de toute la respiration in this other post or to "with love" in "loving someone with the love of a brother.")

A related question would be: how one says, "Then God let it rain." Can we say Alors le Dieu le laisser pleuvoir?

2 Answers 2


Laisser pleuvoir du feu.

I think it fits most with 2 and 3. Here, "laisser pleuvoir du feu" means there will be a rain made of fire, in an apocalyptic meaning.
du feu is a COD (Complément d'Objet Direct), beacause you can ask

Laisser pleuvoir quoi ? Du feu

You will find the same structure in those sentences:

pour laisser passer le train
pour laisser couler de l'eau

You use "du" because "water" and "fire" are not countable.
Whereas you use "le" because a train is countable.
So "du" has the meaning of "some" here (maybe you could say "let rain some fire" ?)

Then God let it rain

You would say one of those:

Alors Dieu laissa pleuvoir (a bit odd)
Alors Dieu laissa la pluie tomber

You only use "le Dieu" if you want to stress the fact there is only 1 God. Otherwise, "Dieu" is a proper name.

  • Thanks. Though you said "2 and 3" I think the rest of your answer points to 2 alone. Also please see the other answer (by guillaume girod-vitouchkina), which says 1. Without some reconciliation between the two answers, I could only conclude that the expression admits of both readings. It wouldn't be a strange outcome to me. "Fire's downpour" would be similarly ambiguous.
    – Catomic
    Dec 29, 2015 at 6:24
  • I don't know what the potential “acted upon” is called in causative constructions, but du feu is here used as a COD in the infinitive clause. However, your question does not help to find this out; your reasoning is wrong. Think of this sentence: Il laisse tomber des cailloux. Des cailloux could only be subject of tomber, but the question is also “Laisser tomber quoi ?”. This means that native speakers cannot even rely on their knowledge of this question to distinguish between an “acted upon” and a COD of the infinitive clause. Jan 2, 2016 at 1:30

The good meaning is your number 1.

Du is a partitive article.

One can also say: la neige, or de la neige, du feu, or le feu, ...

Du feu is subject of pleuvoir.

Laisser is a semi-auxiliaire (like faire, voir, regarder, entendre, sentir )

Le bon usage 14, 821 f.

See also: http://www.etudes-litteraires.com/forum/topic11075-faire-infinitif-expose.html

I propose two meanings for 'Then God let it rain':

  • Alors Dieu laissa pleuvoir.

  • Alors Dieu fit en sorte qu'il pleuve or qu'il plût, or Dieu fit qu'il pleuve / qu'il plût, or Dieu fit pleuvoir.

More, this is stylistic because fire doesn't rain, normally !

  • Please see the other answer (by Random), which says 2. Without some reconciliation between the two answers, I could only conclude that the expression admits of both readings. Also, thanks for mentioning Le Bon Usage. Is there any free online access to it? What I found (lebonusage.com) seems to be a paid site.
    – Catomic
    Dec 29, 2015 at 6:29
  • @Catomic Difficile de faire mieux que le snippet view (d'une version antérieure), complètement inadéquat considérant la nature de l’œuvre. Parfois on en retrouve des extraits pertinents au Guichet du savoir...
    – user3177
    Dec 29, 2015 at 11:39
  • @Catomic It is not a COD. I put another link. Dec 29, 2015 at 11:55
  • One can say il pleut des chats. Technically, des chats is an object in this sentence. *Des chats pleuvent is not possible. Similarly du feu is necessarily the object of pleuvoir. However, the causative construction does not enforce that. For example laisser peindre Paul is ambigous. Jan 1, 2016 at 15:16
  • @StéphaneGimenez . Sorry but no. In: Il pleut, il neige, il tombe, il coule, il entre, il apparaît, il surgit, ... des chats, des fantômes, ... : it is impersonal form. Real subject is chats. chats can never be COD, because these verbs dont have COD. "Des chats pleuvent" is possible. Jan 2, 2016 at 11:10

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