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Ceci dit, vu la valeur de ces pierres, nous ne pouvons nous permettre d'en distribuer à droite et à gauche, chaque fois que quelqu'un nous en demande.

or

Ceci dit, vu la valeur de ces pierres, nous ne pouvons nous permettre de les distribuer à droite et à gauche, chaque fois que quelqu'un nous les demande.

Incidentally, am I correct in assuming that the two "en"s each refer to "some"?

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    Indeed en refers to "some" - i.e. only a part of the supply in stones is considered.. Using les would refer to the entire supply. – Laure SO - Écoute-nous Jul 4 '16 at 10:34
  • @Laure So does using two "les"s here sound jarring to native speakers? Merci. – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens Jul 4 '16 at 10:35
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    Not really jarring, I expect slightly different in meaning. – Laure SO - Écoute-nous Jul 4 '16 at 10:43
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    indeed, slightly different in meaning, but the fact that we also use "chaque fois que" in the sentence implies that anyway we're talking about a subset of these items. That said the use of "en" leaves no room for such misunderstanding and is the the best solution I would say... – Laurent S. Jul 4 '16 at 11:30
  • I almost disagree with @Laure, I would say, in this context "en" refer to "some" whereas "les" might refer to "some" or "all". – Archemar Jul 4 '16 at 12:23
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As @Laure mentioned, en means some of them and les means them (presumably all of them).

Ceci dit, vu la valeur de ces pierres, nous ne pouvons nous permettre de les distribuer à droite et à gauche, chaque fois que quelqu'un nous les demande.

Grammatically, this sentence is just as correct as the other one, but the usage of les doesn't make sense. The problem is that "chaque fois" implies that the stones have been asked for multiple times, and you wouldn't be able to give them away multiple times. This makes the les problematic, especially the second one. The first one could maybe be understood as a partial distribution, because "distribuer" can mean "to retail" a wholesale quantity into smaller lots; but "demander les pierres" means to "ask for [all] the stones".

The sentence has different meaning with en but doesn't contain such a contradiction.

It would be fine if the sentence with les used "prêter" instead of "distribuer", because then you could assume that the stones are taken back after each time.

  • The meaning would be something like, you have three magic stones that change sand into gold, so everyone ask you to borrow them. So you decide to stop lending them to everyone, because they are precious. – Destal Jul 4 '16 at 17:35

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