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Here's a sentence from Giles Deleuze's Spinoza: Philosophie pratique that I'm slightly puzzled by:

Le père de Spinoza semble lui-même un sceptique, qui n'en tient pas moins un rôle important dans la synagogue et la communauté juive.

The sentence makes sense, but why is the "en" necessary?

From looking around on Linguee it looks like "pas moins" pretty much always takes "en" (unless it's actually a "pas moins... que").

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En refers to semble lui-même un sceptique.

This could be rephrased:

Le père de Spinoza tient un rôle important dans la synagogue et la communauté juive en dépit de sembler être lui-même un sceptique

i.e.

Despite being a skeptic, he nevertheless plays a significant role...

N'en + verb + pas moins means cependant, en dépit de cela, etc. It is a frozen idiom with a double negation (ne pas + moins) and a close relative of néanmoins.

  • Is the "en" replacing a "de" construction though? I'm having trouble seeing how to replace the "en" with something involving "de". – Alan O'Donnell Apr 23 '16 at 0:46
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    The en is part of a frozen idiom but if you want to remove it, that would be the slightly broken Il ne tient pas moins d'être un sceptique un rôle important dans la synagogue. – jlliagre Apr 23 '16 at 7:39
  • Awesome, that's exactly what I wanted to know! – Alan O'Donnell Apr 23 '16 at 12:03
  • Agreed, it's a frozen idiom, it can't really be explained using grammar or syntax. @jlliagre's example is more than "sligthly broken" though, it's plain weird and very probably incorrect. – Pwassonne Apr 23 '16 at 20:36
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"En" in such a context works like a reference to a previous clause or statement or object. "Il n'arrete pas de faire du bruit. Il faut qu'on en parle"

This "en" refers to the previous sentence (that he makes noise continuously) so instead of having to repeat the whole sentence you just replace it with "en" in english it would be like adding "about it" or "concerning it" at the end or something of the sort.

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    Your answer is a general remark about "en" and not an answer to OP's question with use in specific context. – Laure SO - Écoute-nous Apr 23 '16 at 8:44
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    Cette réponse me semble, au contraire, parfaitement appropriée, car la question portait sur le rôle de "en" dans la phrase. – BBBreiz Apr 24 '16 at 3:00
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"Le père de Spinoza semble lui-même un sceptique, qui n'en tient pas moins un rôle important dans la synagogue et la communauté juive."

first point: tenir un rôle moins important d'être sceptique text, this is implied and allowed by transposition according to French grammar

second point: there's the de, in this case, d' calling for the en.

third point: the negative then becomes: n'en tenir pas moins un rôle important Spinoza's father seems to be a skeptic himself, who does not have, due to this, a less important role (to play) in the synagogue and Jewish community. This translation is only to show what happens to the en.

I think the en follows the rule here in fact. It just has to be transposed for it to appear: d'être sceptique, this or that happens. The en refers back to or "recalls" that phrase, which is implied.

d' + être + noun is due to.

c) De introduisant un inf. suj.;de signifie « le fait de », en parlant d'un fait particulier, ce tour littér. est assez répandu (cf. infra II B 1).

http://www.cnrtl.fr/definition/de

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