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In French I learned not to use more than two negation elements in a sentence. For instance, the sentence

(a) Rien ne marche pas.

is wrong because it contains "rien", "ne", and "pas".

However, I'm interested in whether the following are correct despite containing three or four negation elements.

Nothing works anymore.
(b) Rien ne marche plus.

Nothing ever works.
(c) Rien ne marche jamais.

Nothing will ever work again.
(d) Rien ne marche plus jamais.

If all of them work, does that mean that the "rule" only applies to the element "pas"?

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As a subject, rien ne is the opposite of tout. You cannot arbitrarily add pas to the end of a sentence starting with rien ne because pas is an auxiliary requiring a matching ne but the existing ne is not usable, being already part of the rien ne expression.

— Everything works - Tout marche

— Nothing works - Rien ne marche

— It works - Ça marche

— It doesn't work - Ça ne marche pas

In the previous sentence, pas is present being the auxiliary of the ne

– Nothing works anymore - Rien ne marche plus

– Nothing ever works - Rien ne marche jamais

– Nothing will ever work again - Rien ne marchera jamais plus

These three sentences are appending adverbs of time (jamais, plus) which are not there to build the negation but to add elements that elaborate on it. They can then be combined with the existing negation and with each other without breaking any rule.

  • Wow. I find it cool to think of rien/personne ne as a subject. In fact what I've always been understanding is that rien/personne themselves have pas as an invisible component... – Vim May 29 '16 at 17:15
  • Yes, I see... @AnneAunyme – Mason H. Hatfield May 30 '16 at 18:56
  • Better example: Personne ne regarde la télé – Mason H. Hatfield May 30 '16 at 19:00
  • @MasonH.Hatfield Good example indeed although personne ne regarde jamais la télé is ambiguous. It might mean either "nobody ever watch tv" or "nobody never watch tv". – jlliagre May 30 '16 at 20:16
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I don't think there is a rule. It's all about confusion. If you have multiple negations, you may be misunderstood. So it's at your own risk.
Then, it seems that "pas" should be avoided to make it smoother:

  • For (a), it would mean "Tout marche" (because of the double negation). If it is not what you meant, you should say "Rien ne marche".
  • For (b), you should say "Plus rien ne marche". It sounds much more natural, even if yours is correct.
  • For (c), it sounds odd, you would have to rephrase it. "ever" is a word which is hard to translate in french. You may have to say something like "Jamais rien ne marche" or better "Il n'y a jamais rien qui marche". It seems to be the same rule as "plus", it should be before "rien".
  • For (d), you missed the "will", which makes the sentence future. So "marche" has to be "marchera", and then sounds ok.
  • For (b), why must "plus" be placed at the front? For (c), how would you translate it? – pi66 May 28 '16 at 22:30
  • @pi66 I edited my answer – Random May 28 '16 at 23:04

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