My questions are about the bolded sentence below1. (The earlier sentences are there to give context) :

Assise sur le coin du lit, dans la lumière de la lune filtrant entre les persiennes, son regard ahuri planté dans le mien, Denise tenait ses cheveux dans ses mains. Loin de sa tête. Ne lui restaient que quelques touffes de poils éparses sur le crâne.

DeepL's translation:

Sitting on the corner of the bed, in the moonlight filtering through the blinds, her bewildered gaze planted in mine, Denise held her hair in her hands. Far from her head. Only a few tufts of hair remained scattered on her head.


  1. a) Would the bolded sentence be correct, and mean the exact same thing, if I inserted an impersonal "Ils" at the beginning: "Ils ne lui restaient que ..."? (The reason I want to do this, is because the original sentence seems to not have a subject). b) Is there a connotation or stylistic difference made by not having a subject?

  2. What the "lui" is for? Would the bolded sentence make sense if it was deleted? (My confused guess: Is "lui" used with "rester" here because a body part ("le crâne") was mentioned?)

1. From "La Bête à sa Mère", by David Goudreault, chapter 1

  • This is a great example of how bad that site is, especially for literary translation. That is a misuse of the verb scatter in English and a mistranslation of: quelques touffes de poils éparses sur le crâne. Which is: a few tufts of hair remained here and there on her scalp.
    – Lambie
    Apr 28, 2022 at 15:36
  • @Lambie: It's not a misuse of the verb scatter; it's a misplacement of the adjective scattered. Only a few scattered tufts of hair remained on her scalp would be fine. Apr 28, 2022 at 17:15
  • @PeterShor I'd say that's inaccurate. Generally speaking, I don't think of scattered describing things that are attached, like tufts of hair to a scalp. The Oxford says: "occurring or found at intervals or various locations rather than all together". What it doesn't say is that the semantic trait of scattered includes "not attached" in many instances. Unless the tufts of hair had been ripped out of scalp. That's why I used here and there and specifically avoided scattered. (I know that for graphs et alia the points are described with that word).
    – Lambie
    Apr 28, 2022 at 17:40
  • I specifically avoided scatter for that reason, Tufts of hair, ripped from the victim's scalp, lay scattered around on the floor.
    – Lambie
    Apr 28, 2022 at 17:42
  • 2
    @Lambie: So scattered tufts of grass are tufts of grass that have been uprooted and thrown haphazardly around the landscape? I really don't think so. There's a subtle semantic difference between the verb scatter and the adjective scattered. Apr 28, 2022 at 17:45

1 Answer 1


The sentence would be correct and mean the exact same thing with a subject, but that subject would then be the singular impersonal il:

Il ne lui restait que quelques touffes de poils éparses sur le crâne.

In the original sentence, the actual subject is Que quelques touffes de poils, as the plural restaient shows:

Seules quelques touffes de poils éparses lui restaient sur le crane.

Lui represents Denise. Without this pronoun, the sentence would have been slightly odd:

Ne restaient que quelques touffes de poils sur le crane.

It is not incorrect but it somewhat gives the impression that the hairs had the choice to leave but a few of them decided to stay.

Note also that the author, to reinforce the image and the surprise it inspires, deliberately uses the wrong word for hair, poils, while cheveux would be expected on a scalp.

  • 1) can you articulate what nuance or stylistic difference is created, between the original sentence vs having the impersonal subject "Il"? 2) It confuses me that "Que" is a word in the subject, without "ne". Textbooks etc make it seem that when "que" means "only", it always has a "ne" with it. So, if I wanted to undo the inversion and write the subject first, could I write: "Ne que quelques touffes do poils éparses lui restaient sur le crâne"? 3) Would the original sentence make sense if I deleted "lui"?
    – silph
    Apr 28, 2022 at 11:07
  • 1
    1) The sentence is more literary than with the impersonal subject. It wouldn't be used in speech. 2) You are right, this que works with a ne. It is present in the original sentence. Moving the subject before the verb forces to replace it by something else, like Seules in my rephrasing. Ne que quelques doesn't work at all. 3) Answered in the meantime.
    – jlliagre
    Apr 28, 2022 at 11:16

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