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I'm having trouble understanding this phrase. I understand that ne plus means "no longer", but this phrase does not have ne, and plus is moved to the top. Also, est is missing from est possible. How can I parse this phrase?

N’oublie pas : une fois la machine lancée, plus de retour en arrière possible.

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Unlike English where traditional grammar states a verb is mandatory to form a complete sentence, a verbless sentence is possible in French where it is called phrase nominale.

The sentence means:

Don't forget: once the engine is launched, no rollback [[is] possible].

It might have been rephrased:

N’oublie pas : une fois la machine lancée, le retour en arrière est impossible.

Retour en arrière is kind of a set expression here, like retour à zéro or even retour vers le futur. Breaking it with retour possible en arrière would make the sentence less idiomatic.

Nobody would even say Retour possible à zéro.

While rarer, verbless constructions do actually exist in English, for example:

[Once all rooms are occupied,] no vacancy!

or:

Mission: impossible

  • 1
    English has shortened forms also. I am upvoting this. – Lambie Dec 8 '17 at 15:10
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You have to take it as a shortened form for il n'y a plus de retour en arrière possible. Same as for instance in the very common Pas de problème !. You can drop the 'il n'y a" in this case to add a sense of abruptness to the negation:

J'arrive à la gare: trop tard, plus de trains ! Je sors de la gare, je cherche un taxi: pas de taxi !

The "ne" falls along with the verb, but there will be no ambiguity, the negative form is obvious just from "pas" ou "plus". In spoken French, the "ne" is often dropped anyway: it is very common to hear:

J'ai pas d'argent

J'ai plus d'argent

One might argue that the 2nd example is then ambiguous, as it may mean either I have more money, or I don't have any money left. But plus is pronounced [plys] if if is the comparative for quantities, and [ply] if it is the negation for something that existed before. If you encounter this in written, it will be the context that will determine how "plus* should be understood.

As for possible, it is an adjective that qualifies the noun retour: Possible is placed here after the noun it qualifies. I guess that the puzzling thing here is that it is not placed directly after retour: en arrière is here "closely attached" to retour for its meaning, so it is ok to not separate them by an adjective. You could also say plus de retour possible en arrière - some speakers will possibly say it just sounds "better". If you leave out en arrière, and that you add a full verbal form again, maybe the sentnce will make more sense to you:

Il n'y a plus de retour possible.

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    Concerning the ambiguity of plus (no more) and plus (more of): french.stackexchange.com/a/275/13100 and french.stackexchange.com/a/25362/13100 – Montée de lait Dec 8 '17 at 13:50
  • Good explanation except I am not sure that possible qualifies retour. It is built on: être possible, and is not "un possible retour" or "un retour possible"" where possible is an adjective qualifying retour. Il y a un retour possible is "une locution impersonnelle ou proposition impersonnelle" (dummy subject). – Lambie Dec 8 '17 at 14:49
  • @Lambie I believe Greg's explanation is the right one, but thanks for bringing this up: it had me thinking for a moment. In this case, it would have been used with “avoir” (as when you mention «il y a un retour possible»), not with “être”, as you initially stated in your comment. – Montée de lait Dec 8 '17 at 16:03
  • @Feelew I became confused by your comment and my own, which was also confusing. I believe the sentence is the general structure: Il est possible d'avoir un retour, il n'est pas possible d'avoir un retour. That's clearer. Le retour en arrière n'est plus possible. :) None of those has possible as qualifying retour. In no case are the variants we are discussing with the noun retour with the adjective possible as a qualifier. We agree on that right? – Lambie Dec 8 '17 at 16:14

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