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I just read this sentence and while I understand the meaning, I don't understand what is going on in terms of the grammar or the alternative meaning for aura + rien. Is there some construction here that I don't know of.

Obtenir une place en quart de finale n'aura rien d'automatique.

Why aura and not sera? Why rien and not pas? Would ne sera pas automatique have the same meaning?

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    Welcome to French Language. I think this is a good first question. I've slightly modified the title as you suggested. – Laure SO - Écoute-nous May 12 '17 at 10:12
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You can have these two forms:

Obtenir une place en quart de finale n'aura rien d'automatique.

Obtenir une place en quart de finale ne sera pas automatique.

The two have the same meaning.

The part n'aura rien d' is a conjugation of the exact expression: ne rien avoir de.

The nuance is that n'aura rien d' is stronger than ne sera pas: the former means that you are really really sure.

As @Aaron pointed on the comments, you can make a sentence with the same strength using “être” this way:

Obtenir une place en quart de finale ne sera en rien automatique.

In this case, we prefer avoir because with être the sentence is longer.

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    It's possible to keep the same strength and stay closer to the original sentence by using ne sera en rien X instead of ne sera pas X – Aaron May 12 '17 at 13:27
  • @Aaron I was comparing to answer to the question, but you're right, I'll edit my answer :) – darckcrystale May 12 '17 at 13:29
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    (And as a side note to this explanation, of course, these constructions can be used with essentially any adjective with the same effect.) – Luke Sawczak May 12 '17 at 19:02
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Yes, "ne rien avoir d'automatique" is equivalent to "ne pas être automatique", though a little stronger.

So why "ne rien" and not "ne pas" ? Well the opposite of the expression is "avoir quelque chose d'automatique" (rarely used, though) and the opposite of "avoir quelque chose" is "ne rien avoir" ("ne pas avoir quelque chose" is logically correct but less elegant).

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