The question is on en as highlighted in this passage from the 'Alissa's Journal' section of La porte étroite by André Gide.

« Tout ce que vous demanderez à mon père en mon nom… »
 Seigneur ! en votre nom je n’ose…
 Mais si je ne formule plus ma prière, en connaîtrez-vous moins pour cela le délirant souhait de mon cœur ?


What is the contribution of en to the meaning of the sentence?


If en were not there, I might have tried to understand the sentence to mean:

But if I no longer formulate my prayer, will you know (any the) less for that the delirious hope of my heart

where pour cela (for that) refers to the foregoing si-clause.

Alternatively, if en were there, but pour cela were gone this time, I might try to see in en a reference to the si-clause.

But with both en and pour cela there, I cannot be sure of the reference of either expression.

In Dorothy Bussy's translation, there is no express reference in the main clause to the si-clause.

But though I no longer formulate my prayer, wilt Thou be the less aware of the delirious longing of my heart?

3 Answers 3


En connaître, according to the TLFi, means être compétent pour juger.

− Spéc., DR., emploi intrans. [Le suj. désigne un juge et, p. ext., une assemblée délibérative] Connaître de qqc.; en connaître. Être compétent pour juger.

(TLFi, II, C, 2)

So basically, en is part of this special and originally legalistic meaning of connaître.

And the general meaning of the sentence suddenly becomes apparent: if I no longer make the contents of my prayer known to you [si je ne formule plus ma prière], will you because of that be less competent in judging the delirious wish of my heart [en connaîtrez-vous moins pour cela le délirant souhait de mon cœur]?

  • Thank you. In that case, why wouldn't the sentence simply use the Connaître de qqc form? That would mean dropping the en and inserting de before le délirant souhait, (maybe) resulting in du délirant souhait. All told: "Mais si je ne formule plus ma prière, connaîtrez-vous moins pour cela du délirant souhait de mon cœur". Would this be an alternative formulation?
    – Catomic
    May 13, 2017 at 10:01
  • 1
    Or maybe, should I think that, in Gide's original formulation, there is a relationship of apposition between en and le délirant souhait de mon cœur? I.e. a syntactic equivalent of: "Would you know of it any the less for that, the delirious hope of my heart?" where it and hope are apposite.
    – Catomic
    May 13, 2017 at 10:04
  • I think it's something like that. But French is a very sophisticated language, and French writers have always been equally sophisticated, if not even more so. May 13, 2017 at 10:49

I believe this is just one of the many expressions where, to quote Grevisse (Le Bon Usage, 14th ed., §679) "en and y have an imprecise value", that is, they are pretty much impossible to analyze according to the rules that normally apply to pronouns.

It's very hard to read this and not suffer from some "cross-contamination" from n'en connaître pas moins, "to know nonetheless". It could be just a variant of it (by suppression of ne pas, which doesn't change my conclusion above), but if it's a separate expression, I don't think I've ever run into it.


Difference in meaning, which you can see in the translation:

1) Mais si je ne formule plus ma prière, en connaîtrez-vous le délirant souhait de mon cœur ? =

**will you know about [find out about] ** my heart's delirious wish?


2) Mais si je ne formule plus ma prière, connaîtrez-vous** le délirant souhait de mon cœur ? =

Will you know my heart's delirious wish?

I simplified the sentence to make my point about the EN.

One is to know something and the other is to know about something.

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