1

The question is on the emboldened word in this passage from chapter 5 of La porte étroite by André Gide. The letter (italicized) is from Alissa.

La lettre suivante ne parlait que de la naissance de sa nièce, dont elle devait être marraine, de la joie de Juliette, de celle de mon oncle… mais de ses sentiments à elle, il n’était plus question.
      Puis ce furent des lettres datées de Fongueusemare de nouveau, où Juliette vint la rejoindre en juillet…

      Édouard et Juliette nous ont quittés ce matin. C’est ma petite filleule surtout que je regrette ; quand je la reverrai, dans six mois, je ne reconnaîtrai plus tous ses gestes ; elle n’en avait encore presque pas un que je ne lui eusse vu inventer. Les formations sont toujours si mystérieuses et surprenantes ! c’est par défaut d’attention que nous ne nous étonnons pas plus souvent. Que d’heures j’ai passées, penchée sur ce petit berceau plein d’espérance. Par quel égoïsme, quelle suffisance, quelle inappétence du mieux, le développement s’arrête-t-il si vite, et toute créature se fixe-t-elle encore si distante de Dieu ? Oh ! si pourtant nous pouvions, nous voulions nous rapprocher de Lui davantage… quelle émulation ce serait !

QUESTION

  1. If the child had many gestures the invention of which Alissa had not seen, which of the following would be the proper way to express that?

(A) elle en avait beaucoup que je ne lui avait vu inventer
(B) elle en avait beaucoup que je ne lui eus vu inventer
(C) elle en avait beaucoup que je ne lui eusse vu inventer

  1. Why is Gide's original (duplicated below) in the subjunctive?

(G) elle n’en avait encore presque pas un que je ne lui eusse vu inventer

  1. If Gide had used the indicative, would that have been ungrammatical? I.e., is the following ungrammatical?

(G') elle n’en avait encore presque pas un que je ne lui avait (eus) vu inventer

BACKGROUND

If I had to hazard a guess, I would start by noting that Alissa had in fact seen almost all the gestures at their invention. Therefore, the idea of the que clause--namely, that Alissa had not seen their invention--is contrary to fact. The subjunctive eusse marks this counterfactuality.

If this guess is correct, then the answer to 1 would have to be (A) or (B) because there is no counterfactuality there. In this case, I have no good sense of why (A) or (B), as the case may be, would be preferable except that I have not seen many verbs in passé antérieur.

  • Another instance from the same book: Qu’aurions-nous à nous dire que nous ne nous soyons déjà écrit ? Only instead of the explicit negative (referred to in Teleporting Goat's answer), we have a question (an implicit negative). – Catomic Jan 9 '17 at 16:53
1

As Simon said, subjonctif imparfait is almost never used now, so in order for my own sentences to sound familiar I'll use subjonctif présent.

Basically, there is a construction in French that goes :

Il n'y a rien que [subjonctif]

Here are some examples :

Il n'y a rien que je puisse faire.

N'y a-t-il personne ici qui sache comment faire ?

Il n'y a pas grand chose qui soit capable de le faire réagir.

  1. It is possible only with negative sentences (rien, personne, presque pas,...) so you can't use that tense with "Il y en avait beaucoup". I think the correct one is "Il y en avait beaucoup que je ne lui avais (pas) vu inventer". I'm not 100% sure though, it's not a tense I use a lot.

  2. See above.

  3. According to this thread, it isn't grammatical to use indicative here. In colloquial langage you might hear it but it's a mistake.

Ex: "Nothing can stop me"

Il n'y a rien qui puisse m'arrêter

Correct, but very formal

Il n'y a rien qui peut m'arrêter

Not correct but can be heard. Colloquial.

Rien ne peut m'arrêter

Correct, less formal than the first one, but not as colloquial as the second.


I found other used of this construction in popular phrases :

Il y a pas de "mais" qui tienne !

When a parent is scolding their child and they respond, for example. "Mais" can be replaced with anything, the phrase means it's not receivable, you're not in place to say "but..." or ask for the thing.

Il n'y a que Maille qui m'aille

Slogan of the mustard brand "Maille". "Only Maille can satisfy me".

  • Thank you. But one question. Why should (A) be without ne? It would seem that both (affirmative & negative) should be possible. I.e. the child could have many que je lui avait vu inventer (that I had seen her invent) or que je ne lui avait vu inventer (that I had not seen her invent). Just depends on the facts, no? – Catomic Jan 5 '17 at 16:09
  • @Catomic Ooh yeah sure, I thought you forgot to remove it, it would have been clearer with "ne ... pas", but it is correct to omit "pas" especially in book language. My bad ! – Teleporting Goat Jan 5 '17 at 16:24
  • Do you mean subjonctif is only possible with negative sentences? Because I'm pretty sure that it's wrong, and je veux que tu le saches. – Destal Jan 5 '17 at 16:57
  • @SimonDéchamps No, only with the construction "Il n'y a [negative] qui [ subjonctif ]" (and in some others). I'm pretty sure you can't say "Il y a quelque chose qui puisse l'arrêter". There are other constructions that use subjonctif when they are negative : "Je crois qu'on peux..." / "Je ne crois pas qu'on puisse..." but of course you can use subjonctif in positive sentence. – Teleporting Goat Jan 5 '17 at 17:09
0

In a sentence with a main clause and a subordinate clause that takes place before the main clause, you must use the subjonctif passé:

Il faut que tu aies fini tes devoirs avant te sortir.

If the main clause is already in a past tense, so you must use the subjonctif plus-que-parfait:

Il fallait que tu eusses fini tes devoirs avant de sortir.

Nowadays the subjonctif passé is often used instead:

Il fallait que tu aies fini tes devoirs avant de sortir.

  • Thank you, but is falloir perhaps driving the requirement in your examples? Consider the French for: "We found the dog again that we had seen the day before." Would voir be in the subjunctive? – Catomic Jan 5 '17 at 15:16
  • It's important to know that subjonctif imparfait is never used, but that doesn't really answer any of OP's questions. I think the main question is "why is there subjunctive here ?" – Teleporting Goat Jan 5 '17 at 15:36
  • @TeleportingGoat Hum you are right, I don't know why I've understood the question that way. – Destal Jan 5 '17 at 15:47

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