I believe this question arose from a misunderstanding of the text I quote. I only leave it because it has been answered and the mistake was instructive to myself. I doubt however reading this will be worthwhile to others.

This question is on the highlighted sentence in this passage from chapter 7 of La porte étroite by André Gide.

     – Écoute, Alissa, m’écriai-je tout d’un coup : j’ai douze jours libres devant moi. Je n’en resterai pas un de plus qu’il ne te plaira. Convenons d’un signe qui voudra dire : c’est demain qu’il faut quitter Fongueusemare. Le lendemain, sans récriminations, sans plaintes, je partirai. Consens-tu ?
      N’ayant point préparé mes phrases, je parlais plus aisément. Elle réfléchit un moment, puis :
      – Le soir où, descendant pour dîner, je ne porterai pas à mon cou la croix d’améthyste que tu aimes… comprendras-tu ?
      – Que ce sera mon dernier soir.
      – Mais sauras-tu partir, reprit-elle, sans larmes, sans soupirs…
      – Sans adieux. Je te quitterai ce dernier soir comme je l’aurais fait la veille, si simplement que tu te demanderas d’abord : n’aurait-il pas compris ? mais quand tu me chercheras, le lendemain matin, simplement je ne serai plus là.
      – Le lendemain je ne te chercherai plus.


Am I right in thinking that demanderas and n’aurait-il pas compris as stand above are the only way to express the thought there being expressed and that there is neither a more formal nor more colloquial alternative to it?

If there is an alternative in either direction, please tell me what it is.


So often do I hear that what I find in some book is "literary" and would in conversation become something else--so often that I am constantly on the look out for such a possibility.

For the clause in question above, I seem to have determined that it is the only way anyone could have put it, whether in literature or conversation, as follows.

If we were at the actual moment of Alissa's wondering, the clause would run:

si simplement que tu te demandes d'abord : n'ait-iln'a-t-il pas compris ?

But we are not there yet. The moment still lies in the future; so everything has to go into a future tense. So, as the book has it:

si simplement que tu te demanderas d’abord : n’aurait-il pas compris ?

  • I get that her wondering is predicted for the future, & therefore "demanderas" is the correct form for that, but it seems that she will be asking herself about a past event (whether he did or didn't really understand the whole sign/cross thing), so couldn't the question that he predicts she will ask (especially since it's presented as a quotation) be either in the passé composé ("n'a-t-il pas compris") or the past/plu perfect (n'avait-il pas compris")? (What if instead of presenting it as a quote it had been connected with "si" ("tu te demanderas d’abord s'il aurait/avais/a bien compris?)
    – Papa Poule
    Jan 26, 2017 at 15:17
  • @PapaPoule. From what I understand, Alissa's wondering is measured against the present (the time of the utterance of the whole conversation above quoted). Thus, Alissa's wondering is a future to that present. Next, the content of what Alissa wonders (viz. n’aurait-il pas compris) is measured against that future, to which it is a past (as you say). In sum, n’aurait-il pas compris is a past of a future of the present. I believe it is this compound relation that aurait compris expresses.
    – Catomic
    Jan 26, 2017 at 15:30
  • The more I read your questions about La porte étroite, the less I feel like reading that book :-)
    – Frank
    Jan 26, 2017 at 15:31
  • @Frank. I'm probably trashing it. At this rate, I'll give away the ending too.
    – Catomic
    Jan 26, 2017 at 15:33
  • 1
    @PapaPoule. I believe you were totally right, and that's why my question didn't make sense. Thank you.
    – Catomic
    Jan 26, 2017 at 16:58

1 Answer 1


It looks to me like this is a happy medium between more formal and more colloquial (although there are probably ways to say that in slang, but I'm not sure your question is about that). I wouldn't venture in "n'eusse-t'il pas compris" territory - maybe there is a subjunctive possibility (!) but I don't want to go there. One could say:

si simplement que tu te demanderas d’abord: n’a-t-il pas compris?

In which there is less uncertainty.

One thing though:

si simplement que tu te demandes d'abord : n'ait-il pas compris ?

Doesn't work. It would have to be, maybe (but the agreement of the tenses feels wrong):

si simplement que tu te demandes d'abord : n'avait-il pas compris ?

  • s'demander does not require a subjunctive in the que-context? Like doubting, fearing, hoping etc.?
    – Catomic
    Jan 26, 2017 at 15:36
  • s'demander? you mean se demander? but there are those ":" that block the usual que construction, and I can't see how to introduce a que here.
    – Frank
    Jan 26, 2017 at 15:39
  • That s'demander will tell you that I have no opportunity to speak French, only to read. Someone to whom it is speech would never make that sort of mistake. / I totally get what you mean by the colon. Right, Alissa would not say or think ait-il as if--she were describing herself. I'll fix it.
    – Catomic
    Jan 26, 2017 at 15:45
  • But why not just n'a-t-il pas compris meaning did he not understand (or has he not understand)?
    – Catomic
    Jan 26, 2017 at 15:49
  • If, however, the colon blocks an indirect reporting (que) context, then it would have the same blocking power in Gide's original. In which case, n’aurait-il pas compris is simply Alissa's asking that question in a tone of uncertainty? In which case, this whole question simply does not arise!
    – Catomic
    Jan 26, 2017 at 16:00

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.