Outwith je ne sais quoi and savoir, how does "ne quoi" function? Can you negate other verbs with "ne quoi"? Here are some examples.

Can misanthropes exclaim "je ne connais quoi", because they don't care about connaitre other people?

What if you're anesthetized or numb, and can't feel anything? Can you proclaim "je ne sens quoi" or "je ne ressens quoi"?

What if you're too tired to think? Can you proclaim "je ne pense quoi"?

What if you're stuffed, and can't eat or drink anymore? Can you proclaim "je ne bouffe quoi"? "Je ne picole/sirote quoi"? General negation

The main general negator is pas, whose use in clause negation is illustrated in (1) and (5)–(8) above. In addition, the items guère, point, nullement, and aucunement may be used, particularly in more formal registers.

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Hansen, The structure of modern standard French (2016), pp 311-2.

  • @livresque Did you even read my post? I linked to that post in mine.
    – user1995
    Jun 17, 2021 at 5:36
  • I didn't register the link, pardon. Perhaps this is of more help : stella.atilf.fr/Dendien/scripts/tlfiv5/… and french.stackexchange.com/questions/884/…
    – livresque
    Jun 17, 2021 at 5:43
  • I'm not sure I quite understand the question, nevertheless I'll try to point something out so you can rephrase it. Quoi doesn't function with ne, it's not part of the negation, so it can't be grammatically or semantically compared to pas, point, etc. Quoi is a pronoun (object to sais) and you could have je ne sais où, je ne sais comment, etc... No, we could not have ? "je ne connais quoi" because pas can't be omitted with connaitre, only very few verbs accept the ommision of pas, point.. (from memory: avoir, pouvoir, oser, cesser, daigner, list to be checked).
    – None
    Jun 17, 2021 at 7:34
  • @None "Quoi doesn't function with ne, it's not part of the negation". I think you pinpointed my worriment! "Je ne sais quoi" led me to think that quoi is part of the negation with ne! Can you explain pls how "je ne sais quoi" works, if quoi doesn't function with ne?
    – user1995
    Jun 17, 2021 at 8:18
  • 1
    I think this answer deals with it, so I'm not keen on writing a new one. Concerning the use of quoi here you might consider that je ne sais pas quoi and je ne sais quoi are exactly the same thing and focus on the meaning of quoi/ce que. If your question is a duplicate it is in no way to this question. You might consider marking my earlier comment as useful so that it appears on top of the list of comments and avoid more people asking for the question to be closed for a wrong reason.
    – None
    Jun 17, 2021 at 9:27

2 Answers 2


Quoi is only used as "pseudo second negator" with the verb savoir. I write "pseudo" because there is actually kind of an implicit pas in this construction, unlike the negations with guère, jamais, nullement, etc where there can't be a pas.

None of your attemps with a different verb would work.

Quoi can be used in negative statements but never as a negator:

Je mange pas de [inaudible].
Tu manges pas quoi ?

Here quoi is a pronoun replacing something that wasn't heard or understood.

Note that your question was legitimate. While a native French "knows" what can be a co-negator and what can't, there is no obvious difference at first sight between je ne vois personne and je ne sais quoi.

In early French, the first occurences of je ne vois personne were technically built like "I don't see [a] person" and je ne sais quoi. That's only after time that personne split into two words belonging to different categories, one still a positive substantive (Une personne, someone) and another generally negative, the pronoun personne (nobody) but sometimes still positive (anyone).

Such a split never happened with quoi, so it stays a "positive" pronoun even in je ne sais quoi (I don't know what) and accepts a true co-negator like pas or plus:

Je ne sais pas quoi.

Je ne sais plus quoi.

With personne, pas is excluded (or at best, reverses the meaning) :

*Je ne vois pas personne. (*I don't see nobody)

but plus is fine:

Je ne vois plus personne. (I don't see anyone anymore)

  • 1
    Je ne dirais pas que « quoi » ici fait partie de la négation ("second negator"), pas plus que « où » (je ne sais où il va) ou « comment » (je ne sais comment réagir). Ils introduisent une complétive, non ? (? parce que pas sûr..)
    – None
    Jun 17, 2021 at 9:58
  • @None Je dis la même chose, mais peut-être ne suis-je pas assez clair. Quoi peut être utilisé dans une phrase négative mais sans faire partie de la négation proprement dite.
    – jlliagre
    Jun 17, 2021 at 10:06
  • 2
    Je commentais sur « Quoi is only used as second negator with the verb savoir ». Et je disais que je n'étais pas d'accord avec cette formulation qui est celle du PO et qui semble le point d'achoppement de son problème.
    – None
    Jun 17, 2021 at 10:08
  • @None Ah, d'accord. Je comprends mieux la discussion maintenant.
    – jlliagre
    Jun 17, 2021 at 10:12

Quoi is not part of the negation, it doesn't function with ne, it can't be grammatically nor semantically compared to pas, point, nullement, guère, etc.

In the sentence je ne sais quoi dire the negation is ne...pas where pas is omitted. The answers to this question might help you go further with the omission of pas.

Quoi introduces a dependent clause, it is a pronoun, it is the direct object of the verb dire.

The use of quoi depends on what follows in the sentence.

  • Je ne sais (pas) quoi dire.
  • Je sais quoi dire.

If dire had a subject then you could not use quoi, you would use ce que:

  • Je ne sais (pas) ce qu'il dit.
  • Je sais ce qu'il a dit.

You could also have :

  • Je ne sais (pas) où aller.
  • Je ne sais (pas) comment dire ça.

Although savoir is not the only verb with which pas can be omitted in a negative sentence, I think it is the only one in the list which admits quoi (or ce que) to introduce the following dependent clause.

This page has a list of the verbs that can omit pas.

  • Thanks. When I wrote this question, I knew that pas can be omitted as the second negator. I just didn't know that pas was omitted in the case of "je ne sais quoi".
    – user1995
    Jun 18, 2021 at 5:22

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