My French homework quotes Michel Serres as saying:

« Tout le monde vient d’ailleurs, ce qui n’empêche qu’il ne soit chez lui ici. »

I can’t wrap my head around why there’s no ’pas’ in the second part, since it’s arguably supposed to mean ”which doesn’t hinder that” and not something like ”which ONLY hinders that they (everyone) are at home”. I know about ne littéraire, but empêcher is not listed there. Of course, there is the risk of a misprint in my book. Thanks for the help!

3 Answers 3


The second clause “n'empêche” is indeed negative. (And the third clause “ne soit” isn't, this one is a ne explétif.)

There is no particular set of verbs with which the “ne littéraire” can be used. The word ne alone can convey negation when paired with any verb in very formal French. You can generally expect philosophical texts to be written in very formal French, and Michel Serres is no exception.

It's true that some verbs or constructions are more likely to be negated with only ne. I would put empêcher among those verbs. “Ça n'empêche” or “il n'empêche” or even “n'empêche” is a moderately common colloquial idiom where pas is omitted: it's a whole sentence or whole clause meaning roughly “I've heard what you said, but nevertheless, there is contradictory evidence”, which can be translated in English as “nevertheless” or “even though”. In Serres's sentence, given the formal register, any verb could have been negated without pas, but with the verb empêcher it flows more naturally than with most.


DISCLAIMER: I misunderstood the question and the following answer is an explanation about the second "ne" in: "ce qui n'empêche qu'il ne soit chez lui ici".

It is actually a "ne explétif" (full article explaining its use):

Son emploi ne modifie pas la phrase positive en une phrase négative.

EN: its usage does not turn the positive sentence into a negative sentence.

This kind of "ne" can be used in many cases, one of which being this specific case:

La phrase principale est positive ou négative, et contient un verbe exprimant l’évitement, l’empêchement, la défense, la précaution (tel que : empêcher, éviter, prendre garde). Marivaux s’exprime de la sorte [...] : « Tout ce que je dis là n’empêche pas qu’il n’y ait de jolies choses dans votre livre… »

EN: The main sentence is positive or negative, and contains a verb expressing avoidance, defense or caution. Marivaux uses it the following way: « Tout ce que je dis là n’empêche pas qu’il n’y ait de jolies choses dans votre livre… »

The full quote from Michel Serre is the following:

Tout le monde vient d'ailleurs, ce qui n'empêche qu'il ne soit chez lui ici. Il n'y a pas d'étrangers et nous le sommes tous. Ici est partout, il n'y a que des ici.

Rough English translation: Everyone comes from another place, which does not prevent anyone from being home here. There are no foreigners and we are all foreigners. Here is everywhere, and everywhere is here.

He is trying to express the idea that we are all foreigners compared to someone else, and therefore there is no such thing as "a foreign place". That's why whatever the origin, everyone is at home anywhere.

  • 1
    I have a different reading of the explanation when I read the full article "Pour résumer, on la relève seulement dans certaines subordonnées introduites par la conjonction « que » et dans les cas suivants :"(...) "La phrase principale est positive ou négative, et contient un verbe exprimant l’évitement, l’empêchement, la défense, la précaution". The full explanation means that the ne expletif is in the SUBORDINATE clause (here in this case, "qu'il ne soit"), not the main one, where it is a simple negation.
    – Greg
    Apr 21, 2020 at 14:27
  • (cont.) Make the test: remove the "ne" to "empèche" (ce qui empêche qu'il ne soit chez lui) , and the meaning is different. Add "pas" (ce qui n'empêche pas qu'il ne soit chez lui), and the meaning is the same. It is therefore a negative ne and not an expletive ne, the expletive ne can be removed without altering the meaning.
    – Greg
    Apr 21, 2020 at 14:29
  • 2
    There are two “ne” in the sentence. The question is about the one in the second clause: “n'empêche”. Your answer is correct but is about the third clause: “ne soit”. Apr 21, 2020 at 14:36
  • Ah yes! I think I was explaining the second "ne", in which case I'm pretty sure that I'm right about it being an expletive one. That's where the confusion is and I'm sorry about it. Do you guys think I should edit my answer to state that I'm talking about the second "ne", or should I simply remove it?
    – Reyedy
    Apr 21, 2020 at 15:01
  • Ok, then my own comments above are also less relevant, I also thought it was an explanation for the "ne" of "n'empêche".
    – Greg
    Apr 21, 2020 at 16:20

"pas" or "point" may be omitted in the negative form because "ne" is the simple negative operator, like "not" in English. "ne pas" or "ne point" originally mean "not a step" or "not a point", meaning "not even a single step" (or point), the step and the point being the smallest units of distance("pas") or surface("point") possible, so "not even one" stresses zero.

Of course, after centuries, "pas" seems to mean "not", but it's not its real sense, and this is why the familiar form without "ne" (example: "j'ai pas faim") is not correct.

You're right to notice that we use "pas" almost every time in the current language, but theorically, we may omit it, and this is frequently found in literature or poetry.

  • 2
    Beware not to spread the idea some language registers are incorrect. J'ai pas faim is definitely correct spoken French. J'ai faim pas would be an example of an incorrect sentence.
    – jlliagre
    Apr 21, 2020 at 11:01
  • I definitely don't agree with you, I'm sorry because I generally appreciate your keen comments. But I refuse to accept this one, you must be talking about "ultramoderne" French, where words in "Verlan" will soon be considered as true French? I reaffirm that "j'ai pas faim" is not correct, "pas" not really being a negation, as I explained above. Otherwise, you couldn't explain why "ne" goes with "pas". If "pas" meant "not", then "ne pas" would be a double negation. Still, I agree to say that "j'ai pas faim" is current French, but "current" doesn't necessarily mean "correct".
    – BBBreiz
    Apr 21, 2020 at 13:15
  • 6
    By nature, languages evolve. It's a deep debate, but I'm of those who believe that usage makes a language. In this precise example, the disparition of "ne" is a phenomenon described by Jespersen's cycle (fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cycle_de_Jespersen). When you speak about formal French, you are right to say that this is not correct. However, colloquial and spoken French clearly adopted this way of using negations. It's only a matter of "registre de langue".
    – Reyedy
    Apr 21, 2020 at 13:40

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