I'm reading Le silence de la mer and it's an old book, looks old like published in the 40s. Anyway, I've just started and ran across the following sentence

Nous ne parvenions à voir devant nous rien qu'un abîme fétide.

I know that one can use ne...rien for a negative statement and I see rien but the fact that vois devant and nous fall between ne and rien I think it would translate to something else. I'm not sure, I've only seen this with like je connais personne or je ne connais personne or je veux plus or je ne veux plus. Instead of pas one writes personne or plus. So a nice explanation about this sentence would be much appreciated.

1 Answer 1


That's not a split negative here like "ne … pas", "ne … rien" or "ne … personne" but the restrictive expression ne … que so rien is optional here.

Ne … que means "only".

Nous ne parvenions à voir devant nous rien qu'un abîme fétide.

means something like:

We could see in front of us nothing but a foul chasm.

Note that both devant nous and rien can be removed without breaking either the meaning or the grammar here:

Nous ne parvenions à voir qu'un abîme fétide.

We were only able to see a foul chasm.

  • So, I could write a verb and preprosition etc before ending it with the negative i.e. rien or personne etc. Jul 28, 2017 at 0:42
  • Sorry but it's unclear what you are asking, especially as the negative is not only at the end but at the beginning (ne). The final word is just part of the negation, not the whole of it. You might want to provide an example of what you would like to write. Note also that the sentence je connais personne that you wrote in your question is probably not what you think. It is spoken French only and otherwise strictly equivalent to je ne connais personne.
    – jlliagre
    Jul 28, 2017 at 1:03
  • 1
    @NathanielCatchings More than the other items that work like pas, I would say that que is extremely easy to separate from ne, even at long distances. « Je n'en ai touché de tes frites, ma chère Jeannette, appétissantes que je les ai trouvées, que la seule qui était quand même tombée par terre. »
    – Luke Sawczak
    Jul 28, 2017 at 1:06
  • P.S. @jlliagre fool chasm
    – Luke Sawczak
    Jul 28, 2017 at 2:17
  • @Luke foolish mistake ;-) Feel free to correct such errors by the way!
    – jlliagre
    Jul 28, 2017 at 2:42

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