I'm reading a book in French and came across this sentence (emphasis added):

Et ce serait un constat déprimant, n’était un élément crucial : nous, les humains, nous distinguons des autres espèces par notre capacité à faire des miracles.

In English, I understand the translation would be something like: and that would be depressing were it not for a crucial element.

However, I am unsure why we need là here.


means "here/then/in that case/so" in this sentence. Removing it wouldn't change the overall meaning.

Note also that before n'était, s'il is implicit and possibly just missing (s'il n'était un élément crucial).

Here is my attempt to express the first part of this sentence in English:

So that would be a depressing statement...

Your translation were it not for a crucial element is right. Not sure about the register of were it not... in English but n'était.. sounds unusually formal to my ears.

  • 1
    @AmandeAdorable Oui, c'est très soutenu, j'ai failli dire que s'il avait été oublié tellement la forme sans me semble rare. – jlliagre Mar 20 at 21:35

Interestingly you answered your own question when you wrote "emphasis added" because this is exactly what the role of "là" is in this context: emphasis.

I disagree with jilliagre when they say this is "très soutenu". Using "là" sounds pedantic or even rural to me because of the redundancy it introduces, as in "au jour d'aujourd'hui". The rest of the text is, pardon me, ridiculous enough to question its seriousness.

"Ce serait un constat déprimant" is enough because "ce" already points to the object. "Ce serait là un constat déprimant" refers to the same object twice.

Or even three times if one counts the word constat.

And this way of repeating multiple times is not super classy French language. Quite the opposite. It is pretending to have depth with shallow words and formulas.

One could be satisfied with a bare "Ce serait déprimant, n'était un élément crucial" (if we are to keep the rest of the sentence intact).

  • 2
    You misunderstood what my comment was about, probably because the comment it was replying to disappeared in the meantime. What I found formal isn't the whole sentence but the missing s'il. – jlliagre Mar 21 at 13:57

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.