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As an A2 level learner in a foreign country, we were taught that it is imperative to keep the 'pas' in negations, and it's okay to drop the 'ne' in spoken French. But, I observe that the case is exactly the opposite with the phrase "n'importe quoi". Why is the 'pas' left out there?

While doing my research, I did come across this related question, but all it does is explain that there are certain phrases where the pas is dropped without giving any justification about why it is so or how they came to be.

Please do enlighten me if there's something I'm missing.

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    N'importe quoi is to be linked to il n'importe in the related answer: Ne is always used alone in some fixed phrases: qu’à cela ne tienne, n’avoir de cesse, ne dire mot, il n’importe, on ne peut plus , on ne peut moins, on ne peut mieux, etc. These phrases have been fixed by usage. I expect for most French people importe in this phrase is hardly seen as a negated verb, but rather as a phrase meaning "anything" or "nonsense", according to the context.
    – None
    Jun 5, 2022 at 9:02
  • N'importe quoi is an idiomatic and much used phrase in spoken French,. The meaning is basically: Whatever. Languages have tons of phrases like this. It is usually used as a retort to a situation in a conversation.
    – Lambie
    Jun 5, 2022 at 13:36
  • @None This is a request for further clarification. From your comment, I understand that this phrase started out as a negation of importer and somewhere along the line became a phrase fixed by usage. In such a case, there must be a reason why the 'pas' got dropped out, say for example, for convenience of pronunciation. What I am looking for is that reason Jun 5, 2022 at 16:47

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In such phrases as n'importe quoi, n'importe qui, n'importe lequel, n'importe comment, etc. n'importe is not part of a verbal phrase. Even if French dictionaries list those phrases under importer, they categorize them as indefinite phrases (noun or adjective). Therefore one cannot expect to reason in verb terms, it is not an imperative (cf. your question), it is neither negative nor affirmative.

As far as I can tell we can follow the trail from importer (i.e. avoir de l'importance) : ça m’importe // il m'importe peu/pas/guère. On to the use in the subjunctive with qu'importe and then to n'importe lequel/qui... that I expect might be deconstructed as il ne m'importe pas lequel choisir. I am not a historian, I can only infer from what I've read so far.

To answer the question in you comment here is the most comprehensive paper I could find on the subject1 (see 4. LE PROCESSUS DE FORMATION DE N’IMPORTE QUEL).


1 Pescarini, Sandrine. « N'importe qu- : diachronie et interprétation », Langue française, vol. 166, no. 2, 2010, pp. 109-131.

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None's comment promoted to an answer:

N'importe quoi is to be linked to il n'importe in the related answer: Ne is always used alone in some fixed phrases: qu’à cela ne tienne, n’avoir de cesse, ne dire mot, il n’importe, on ne peut plus , on ne peut moins, on ne peut mieux, etc.

These phrases have been fixed by usage. I expect for most French people importe in this phrase is hardly seen as a negated verb, but rather as a phrase meaning "anything" or "nonsense", according to the context.

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