Source: pp 184-185, French prepositions à and de in infinitival complements, A pragma-semantic analysis (2008) by Lidia Fraczak, as part of Adpositions: Pragmatic, Semantic and Syntactic Perspectives (2008) edited by D Kurzon, S Adler

We have pointed out the incompatibility of the preposition à with “negative” expressions, like

[1.] oublier (“to forget”), manquer (“to fail”), éviter (“to avoid”), refuser (“to refuse”), which share the meaning of “not doing” or “not wanting to do”.

We explain the use of the preposition de with these verbs by the existence of a different operation than that involved in “ambivalent vision”: the presupposed, positive version of a given fact is “dismissed” in favour of the negative one, thus resulting in “monovalent vision”. We observe, however, that the verb renoncer (“to give up”), unlike other “negative” verbs, combines with the preposition à and not with de.

[2.] In this case, it may be considered that both versions (the positive and the negative one) remain “activated”, in order to express the transfer from one version to the other implying “cost” or “regret”, and thus “ambivalent vision” is in effect. With this verb, an argumentative/polemic value may be brought to light by the context, as may be illustrated by the following examples, taken from the Internet:

(27) Ce numéro de Poésie 1 / Vagabondages donnera la parole à une trentaine de poètes femmes (nous renonçons à utiliser le mot “poétesse” qui commence bien mais se termine mal).
‘This issue of Poésie 1 / Vagabondages will feature about thirty woman poets (we refrain from using the word “poetess”, which starts well but ends badly).’

(28) Avec l’irruption de la télé-réalité, nous renonçons à distinguer le vrai du faux, la vie publique et la vie privée.
‘With the invasion of reality TV, we are giving up distinguishing between the true and the fake, between public life and private life.’

In example (27), it is a deliberate decision that is described, its reason being justified in the second part of the sentence. The announced choice (not to use the word poétesse) is implicitly opposed to the previous, contrary choice, with the idea of regret relating to the passage from one to the other. In example (28), the sentence containing the verb renoncer constitutes a comment which indicates that the emergence of reality TV leads to the transfer, judged negatively, from some previous situation to a situation of confusion.

I am not convinced by 2 (the argument) that tries to distinguish renoncer from the verbs in 1.
How does 2 not apply to the verbs in 1?

PS: I recognise the longitude of this post; please advise what I can omit to shorten it.

2 Answers 2


The French linguist Henri Adamczweski in Le Français déchiffré, explains this much better than Lidia.

He calls these a basic structure of/in French: V1 à V2, as in the sentence, Il s'est mis à boire and V1 de V2 as in, Il a cessé de fumer.

He has two lists of verbs:

One takes de: Cesser, finir, accepter, refuser, éviter, empêcher, manquer, tenter, etc.

And one takes à: Se mettre, commencer, continuer, obliger, forcer, contraindre, pousser, inciter etc. What is the difference between them? It is this: all the ones with DE have a presupposition. If you say, cesser de fumer, it pressupposes there was smoking occuring before. If you finir de parler, it presupposes there was talking. It is not that these verbs are NEGATIVE. It's that what comes after the De existed in the MIND BEFORE the verb comes into play. So, the V2 is foremost in the mind before the V1 kicks in. I hope that is clear.

Whereas with the à list, the state of affairs to the right did not exist before: se mettre à parler, pousser à aller. It's a bit more complicated than that but I find it is the best explanation of this aspect of French grammar. You can read the entire article here: http://www.quivy.org/adam.pdf

In the examples cited from the internet in that article, renoncer à utiliser means they have decided not to use some thing but that thing did not have a prior existence (in their minds). They have come across it and will not use it. The idea of using did not pre-exist, it springs from the fact of running in it, as it were. They will not use the word poetess but that is something happening now. If one goes through the list making up sentences, this system is very coherent and makes sense, and doesn't call for saying that the verbs with De are "negative". The point to an action where what comes AFTER them is being acted upon.

  • +1. Je vous suis reconnaissant ! Je lirai cet œuvre d'Adamczweski. Google ne me l'as pas révelé quand je recherchais les sémantiques des prépositions française ; comment le connaissez-vous ? Je pose cette question car je m'interesse à la Linguistique.
    – user1995
    Feb 6, 2016 at 4:52
  • Je le connais parce qu'une amie a fait une thèse sur ses idées. Son autre livre qui est bien connu est intitulé La Grammaire linguistique de l'anglais. Il arrive à [haha] mettre à nu des structures selon sa métodologie qui permet d'expliquer la logique de bien des choses....là oú on pensait qu'il fallait apprendre par coeur des choses comme: Which verbs take ING: love playing tenneis versus love to play tennis.
    – Lambie
    Feb 6, 2016 at 15:13

En tenant compte du contexte :

Vagabondages donnera la parole à une trentaine de poètes femmes (nous renonçons à utiliser le mot “poétesse” qui commence bien mais se termine mal).

  • peut être remplacé par évitons sans aucune ambiguïté.

Avec l’irruption de la télé-réalité, nous renonçons à distinguer le vrai du faux, la vie publique et la vie privée.

  • peut être remplacé par refusons avec, peut-être, une nuance plus forte (impression subjective).

Disons que renoncer à s'emploiera plus facilement dans les expressions littéraires, diplomatiques et traduit plutôt l'acceptation d'une situation qu'un rejet ou qu'une lutte contre cette dernière.

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