When "clémence" is used alone, it seems you can’t attach "une" to it. But when you have some adjective like "étonnante" or "inhabituelle" precede or follow the word "clémence", it seems you need to add "une". I’d like to know the reason for this.

  • Il a fait preuve de clémence.

  • Il a fait preuve d'une étonnante clémence.

  • Il a fait preuve d'une clémence inhabituelle.

2 Answers 2


When you add "une" before "clémence", you make it distinguishable from others. It becomes not only a standard act of kindness but this very act of kindness. Only saying:

Il a fait preuve d'une clémence.

Would mean he was kind in a particular way, but without saying in what this way is particular, that's why it's weird. Whereas saying:

Il a fait preuve d'une grande clémence.

Means he was very kind ("grande clémence"), but without making a difference with every other time someone is very kind. You loose the uniqueness.


1.) It is not true. You are misunderstanding two differents meanings :

  • clémence = quality of being clément(e)

    fait preuve de clémence (he was kind this time)

  • clémence = act of kindness

    fait preuve d'une étonnante clémence (he did a kind act in particular)

2.) clémence can be associated by kindness but also by mercy and tends to be disused. clémence may associated to the power to give death and mercy about it and there is not a lot of people who has this power actually. So it is used idiomatically and as a picture of great kindness (that's why it is surprising nowaday (inhabituel/étonnant)).

3.) We can totally say

C'est une clémence qu'il t'a fait en évitant de parler de ton erreur.

  • 1
    I don't think that the distinction between the overall quality and a particular act is relevant here; for me, it is the exact same "clémence" in both sentences and only the presence of an adjective changes the sentence's construction. The question asked by the OP is also valid for plenty of other traits of character : générosité, gentillesse, méchanceté, efficacité, etc., and I wouldn't say that "une efficacité" for instance is an act of efficacité. Oct 20, 2016 at 9:07
  • @Alexandred'Entraigues I may haven't explain myself very well. "faire preuve de" + trait will be enought to be understood alone. = He was [trait] once and that's all. But "faire preuve d'une" + adj. + trait demands for more informations. He was particularly [traits]? Why ? Wasn't he always like that? That the both usage I wanted to dissociate. (I know it's not the only expression to use traits, just using the OP sample)
    – Yohann V.
    Oct 20, 2016 at 9:48

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