I say, for instance, with understatement ...

Ce n'est pas le travail qui manque !

... if I'm swamped or overwhelmed with things to do. I wonder if the same can be said for the following expression:

Ce n'est pas l'envie qui m'en manque, mais ...

Am I to take it that the speaker is actually keen to do something – rather than only moderately enthusiastic about it? Is this un understatement?

And one more thing:

Is it acceptable to drop « en »? What does it refer to, exactly? Does it come from « l'envie de ... »?


Yes, it is definitely an understatement: it means "I would REALLY like to do that, but I won't/I can't/I have a good reason not to".

Some examples I can think of: "Peux-tu venir chez moi demain soir ? -désolé, ce n'est pas l'envie qui m'en manque, mais je dois travailler"

Or, imagine a parent talking to a child who has done something wrong: "je ne vais pas te punir, mais ce n'est pas l'envie qui m'en manque, tu le mériterais".

For the second question: "ce n'est pas l'envie qui manque" can still be understood, but I personally think it is much less common (and maybe a bit more formal ?).

The "en" refers indeed to whatever the "envie" is for. In the 1st example above, "en" would be for "going to your place" (ie, "ce n'est pas l'envie de venir chez toi qui me manque").

  • Dans la question, il était seulement demandé s'il était possible d'abandonner le "en" mais non le "me" : "ce n'est pas l'envie qui me manque", mais ça signifierait "en général j'ai envie de choses" ou pire "en général je suis envieux". A éviter, donc.
    – Distic
    Sep 4 '17 at 18:51

While this may look like an understatement (as per Circeus answer's, it's an understatement by definition), it feels more like a lukewarm willingness to do the thing. To me it'd say "I'd be down for it if there wasn't this minor thing that I'm unwilling to report/get around".


Ça n'est pas l'envie qui me manque, mais j'ai piscine ce jour-là.

C'est pas l'envie qui me manque, mais je dois me coucher tôt.

As for the second question, "m'en" sounds bloated to my ear, whereas "me" sounds much more natural, and is still grammatically correct. You can therefore drop just the "en" or even "me" as Greg said.


For what it's worth, I'll only add that the more technical term is litote, that is, expressing something by negating the opposite, and litotes are generally considered to be understatements by definition.

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