5

The question is on en as occurring as highlighted in this excerpt from Voltaire's Candide.

Candide, tout stupéfait, ne démêlait pas encore trop bien comment il était un héros. Il s’avisa un beau jour de printemps de s’aller promener, marchant tout droit devant lui, croyant que c’était un privilège de l’espèce humaine, comme de l’espèce animale, de se servir de ses jambes à son plaisir. Il n’eut pas fait deux lieues que voilà quatre autres héros de six pieds qui l’atteignent, qui le lient, qui le mènent dans un cachot. On lui demanda juridiquement ce qu’il aimait le mieux d’être fustigé trente-six fois par tout le régiment, ou de recevoir à la fois douze balles de plomb dans la cervelle. Il eut beau dire que les volontés sont libres, et qu’il ne voulait ni l’un ni l’autre, il fallut faire un choix ; il se détermina, en vertu du don de Dieu qu’on nomme liberté, à passer trente-six fois par les baguettes ; il essuya deux promenades. Le régiment était composé de deux mille hommes ; cela lui composa quatre mille coups de baguette, qui, depuis la nuque du cou jusqu’au cul, lui découvrirent les muscles et les nerfs. Comme on allait procéder à la troisième course, Candide, n’en pouvant plus, demanda en grâce qu’on voulût bien avoir la bonté de lui casser la tête ; il obtint cette faveur ; on lui bande les yeux ; on le fait mettre à genoux.

Question

Which reading of en is correct? (If neither is, please let me know the way to read it.)

  1. en is a pronoun referring to the foregoing situation or, if a definite reference is required, perhaps to course or coups de baguette. pouvant, a participle, modifies Candide. So we get "of-it-no-more-capable Candide."

  2. en is a preposition setting up a gerund. We are not told what it is that Candide is incapable of. So we get "Candide, as (because) he was no more capable."

Background

Please kindly explain the general principles behind your answer so I may apply them to new situations.

Perhaps I should identify some issues which I think are contributing to my confusion.

  • When should one use a participle alone vs. en + participle? For example, would an en placed before marchant or croyant (as highlighted) change the meaning or be ungrammatical? (General treatment like this has not really helped.)

  • Will ne and en be in that order (i.e. n'en and not en ne) if en is a pronoun? And if en is a preposition?

  • In that case, "en" is referring to the situation : "il essuya deux promenades". In the text Candide chose his punishment : being beaten by a company thirty-six times or receive twelve lead bullets in the head. When he's been beaten two times (over the thirty-six he chose), and the third part is about to begin, he can't stand the pain anymore. In "n'en pouvant plus", "en" refers to the pain Candide has already endured. – Eria Jan 11 '16 at 8:19
3

Unfortunately I don't have enough reputation to leave a comment on your question so I'll post a short answer.

In this case, en is a pronoun referring to the punishment Candide is receiving (the coups de baguette).

To answer you other question, ne and en will always be in that order if en is a pronoun (I am 99% sure and can't think of any exceptions but please do correct me if I'm wrong).

You can recognise en as a pronoun by asking the question:

De quoi Candide n'en pouvait plus ?

The answer here is:

Candide n'en pouvait plus des coups de baguettes

So, now I know that en is a pronoun with as function COI (complément d'objet indirect).

If en is a preposition, it will introduce a complément de lieu, de manière, de temps ou de moyen,a complément de nom ou de l'adjectif or it can function as comme. Some examples:

Je vais partir en France. (It introduces a place)
Nous y allons en voiture. (It introduces a way (moyen) of transport)
Un bracelet en or. (It completes the noun bracelet)
Ils se sont quittés en bons amis. (You could replace en with comme)

I hope this helped you understand a bit better.

  • Thanks. I myself am in no position to correct you. As to the word order, would ne go before or after an en as a preposition? I actually posted a separate question on this. – Catomic Jan 11 '16 at 4:05
  • @Catomic If en was a preposition you wouldn't find ne close to it but rather close to the verb. See my answer for ways to recognise en as a pronoun (I edited it). – trantimus Jan 11 '16 at 8:18
  • As your example “Candide n'en pouvait plus des coups de baguettes” shows, en does not stand for the complement here. Indeed the question is “De quoi Candide n'en pouvait plus”, not *“De quoi Candide ne pouvait plus”. The pronoun en does not refer specifically to “coups de baguette”, it's a pronoun without an antecedent that is part of a set phrase. – Gilles 'SO nous est hostile' Jan 11 '16 at 12:06
  • @Gilles It doesn't specifically stand for "coups de baguette" but it does stand for Candides punishment (which includes the "coups de baguette"). – trantimus Jan 11 '16 at 12:14
5

If you analyze the fragment “n'en pouvant plus” grammatically, en can only be a pronoun. There has to be a verb between the two parts of the negation n' and plus, so pouvant has to be analyzed as a verb form, not as an adjective. If en pouvant was a gerund, the negation would have to be placed inside: “en ne pouvant plus” (this is a valid sentence fragment, but it would normally be followed by a direct complement of the verb pouvant).

The pronoun en normally stands for a complement that starts with de (either the preposition or the beginning of a partitive article). However, you won't find an antecedent here, because n'en plus pouvoir is an idiom, meaning to be at one's limits, to not be able to take any more abuse. The verb phrase n'en plus pouvoir can only be used with this negation (plus). It is not possible to write “*Candide ne pouvait plus de …” (it might have been possible in Old French, but not in anything resembling modern French). It is possible to add a complement, however; that would be an indirect complement introduced by de.

Candide n'en pouvait plus.   Candide couldn't take it any more.
Candide n'en pouvait plus d'être battu.   Candide couldn't take any more beating.

Voltaire's sentence “Candide, n’en pouvant plus, demanda en grâce qu’on voulût bien avoir la bonté de lui casser la tête” could be rephrased as “Candide, à bout de forces, demanda …”. If the thing that Candide could not stand was mentioned explicitly, the sentence could be phrased as “Candide, n'en pouvant plus d'être battu, demanda …” or “Candide, ne supportant plus d'être battu, demanda …”. The complement is a phrase built on a present participle, which qualifies the noun that precedes it (Candide). This complement could be reworded as a subordinate clause with a relative pronoun: “Candide, qui était à bout de forces, demanda …”.

A gerund would be grammatically possible here, though the normal position would be after the verb — a gerund qualifies a verb, not a noun. However doesn't fit semantically in this sentence. An example of a sentence with a gerund would be “Candide demanda en gémissant qu'on arrête de le battre.

  • So en is somewhat like "it" in, "He has a palatial house and servants to fill it. He is really living it up." We would not say that "it" was referring to the house or the servants; rather that the whole phrase "live it up" was characterizing the life style. Would this be the right sort of analogy? – Catomic Jan 12 '16 at 1:56
  • You say that d'être battu is an indirect complement. I think this amounts to seeing n’en pouvant plus as 100% opaque or atomic. If someone said d'être battu is parallel to en (or its apposition) and therefore a direct object, would you think that was a viable alternative analysis or complete nonsense? – Catomic Jan 12 '16 at 2:11
  • @Catomic Hmmm. I'm not sure. The construction “d'être battu” can be a way to turn a verb into a noun clause. For example, in “d'être battu ne changea pas son regard sur le monde”, the group “d'être battu” is the subject. I'm not sure how to analyze this, I guess it's an ellipsis from “le fait d'être battu”. However, “n'en plus pouvoir” can also be used with a noun, e.g. “il n'en pouvait plus de fatigue”, and here it's clearly an indirect complement (introduced by the preposition de). – Gilles 'SO nous est hostile' Jan 12 '16 at 9:24
  • "D'être battu ne changea pas son regard sur le monde." I would want this said of me! Your answer was every bit as helpful as trantimus's, but seeing that his reputation is two-digit I think I will be a socialist and let him keep his chosen answer status. Thanks! – Catomic Jan 12 '16 at 12:17

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.