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My Louis Segond (1910) translation of the Bible verse Luke 12:24 has a phrase that surprised me. After some lines that can be paraphrased « Dieu nourrit les corbeaux bien qu'ils ne sèment ni ne moissonnent, donc ne vous inquiétez pas », we get this exclamation:

Combien ne valez-vous pas plus que les oiseaux !

The Nouvelle Édition de Genève (1979) kept this wording, but two newer ones opted to change it:

Vous valez bien plus qu'eux ! (BDS, 1992)

Vous valez beaucoup plus que les oiseaux ! (Louis Segond 21, 2007)

(A comparison of all four can be found here.)


I've seen ne with a kind of emphatic force in the comparative, e.g.

Vous valez bien plus que les corbeaux ne valent !

But I haven't seen it with the full negation ne... pas.

Is the older structure proper to the 19th and early 20th centuries, hence the change? Or would it still sound natural today?

  • L'original grec: ἐμβλέψατε εἰς τὰ πετεινὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ ὅτι οὐ σπείρουσιν οὐδὲ θερίζουσιν οὐδὲ συνάγουσιν εἰς ἀποθήκας, καὶ ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ὁ οὐράνιος τρέφει αὐτά· οὐχ ὑμεῖς μᾶλλον διαφέρετε αὐτῶν; - Latin (vulgata): respicite volatilia caeli quoniam non serunt neque metunt neque congregant in horrea et Pater vester caelestis pascit illa nonne vos magis pluris estis illis – Christian Geiselmann Aug 3 '17 at 10:36
  • @ChristianGeiselmann The Latin isn't relevant since Segond is based on the Hebrew and Greek texts, but thanks for citing the Greek. However, you've quoted me Matthew 6:26, the parallel passage in that gospel. Luke 12:24 reads πόσῳ μᾶλλον ὑμεῖς διαφέρετε τῶν πετεινῶνhow greatly you (pl.) excel the birds in value, with no negative particle. I suppose it's of some value to see that the editors of Matthew and Luke considered the two expressions equivalent. (Note that Segond renders the Matthew passage as the rhetorical question it appears to be: Ne valez-vous pas beaucoup plus qu'eux ?) – Luke Sawczak Aug 3 '17 at 22:50
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This kind of structure is outdated but still sporadically found in literary texts.

With it, combien is to be understood as the opposite of comme with the negation removed, e.g.:

Combien ne sont-ils pas nombreux ! → Are they not numerous!

is equivalent to:

Comme ils sont nombreux !

So:

Combien ne valez-vous pas plus que les oiseaux !

means:

Comme vous valez plus que les oiseaux !

In modern colloquial French, there is a similar construction:

Il sont pas beaux, mes enfants !

meaning:

Qu'ils sont beaux, mes enfants !

It can be put in parallel with this English exclamative sentence:

Aren't they pretty!

which means:

They are pretty!

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