I just read an article on lemonde.fr about the French police trying to break open an iPhone and saw this:

six téléphones sur les 141 analysés en 2014 « n’ont pu être traités »

And could anyone be kind enough to explain a bit as to why it wasn't

n'ont pas pu être traités?

what sort of grammatical thing do we call this (just so that I can have a term to google on in the future) ?

1 Answer 1


This is original way to negate a verb, pas and similar words (personne, rien...) were optionally appended to clarify the sentence. This single ne form can still be used in formal situations, or even not that formal like in your example.

« n'ont pas pu être traités » could have been equally used here.

The tendency, especially in spoken French is on the opposite to drop the ne and keep the pas.

  • Writing may often forget the "pas" (which is the basic case), and in oral it's the "ne" which is often forgotten. But I think that the "plus" is quite never omitted since it has a "heavier" sens.
    – Larme
    Feb 19, 2016 at 15:06
  • @Larme Yes, these extra words were and are still mandatory when they do more than clarifying the sentence. je ne vois rien, je ne vois personne, je ne vois plus and je ne vois pas have each a different meaning. Je ne vois alone would have been odd for anything else than je ne vois pas, it would be odd anyway because of the pun with genevois...
    – jlliagre
    Feb 19, 2016 at 15:15

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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