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In the sentence below, does "Il n'a pas pu" mean an inability, like "He could not (cut himself off from the rest of the world)"?

Or does it mean a possibility, like "He may not have (cut himself off from the rest of the world)"?

  • Aussi bien caché soit-il, il n'a pas pu se couper du reste du monde. Il doit sûrement être en contact avec ses hommes.

3 Answers 3

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Maybe I get your second example wrong, but I don't think that's how we would express possibility. What I understand is (your second meaning) "maybe he didn't cut himself (...)"

That would be "Il a pu ne pas se couper du reste du monde". It's correct and it's closer to the phrasing with may but it's not as natural as "peut-être qu'il ne s'est pas coupé (...)".

I understand the sentence as "He could not" with no ambiguity, I'd say there is only one meaning. Also Lambie is right, you didn't translate "se couper du monde" right. It's not to cut somebody off, it's to cut oneself off.

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  • the verb is: to cut oneself off from something. NOT: he didn't cut himself!
    – Lambie
    Oct 20, 2016 at 14:38
  • I'm not sure I understand... I just forgot off after cut himself ? Oct 20, 2016 at 14:41
  • @Lambie OP made the mistake in the first place. OP can't be an English speaker...
    – None
    Oct 20, 2016 at 14:58
  • Sorry, i now see you were quoting the OP. I thought the question was about the English for that French sentence and the English is off kilter. The OP seems to be a French speaker....
    – Lambie
    Oct 20, 2016 at 15:10
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In this sentence, and without more context, we cannot decide if he couldn't "cut himself off from the rest of the world" :

  • because he needs human contact and can't stay isolated (inability of staying alone);
  • or because he needed to stay in touch with his men (safety, work...);
  • or because it wasn't his purpose by hidding, he just want to be hard to find, not to stay isolated.
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The English expression is: to cut oneself off from something**. Therefore, you get: He could not cut himself off from. The pronouns myself, yourself, oneself, ourselves, themselves makes all the difference for SE COUPER DE.

Aussi bien caché soit-il, il n'a pas pu se couper du reste du monde. Il doit sûrement être en contact avec ses hommes.

No matter how well he was hidden, he was not able to cut himself off from the rest of the world. OR No matter how well he was hidden, he could not cut himself off from the rest of the world.

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