I came across this passage in Maupassant's story 'Un fou ?' (1884):

La musique, cet art complexe et mystérieux, précis comme l’algèbre et vague comme un rêve, cet art fait de mathématiques et de brise, ne vient donc que de la propriété étrange d’une petite peau [le tympan]. Elle n’existerait point, cette peau, que le son non plus n’existerait pas, puisque par lui-même il n’est qu’une vibration.

How might the last sentence be translated into English? I don't recognise the function of the 'que' before 'le son'.

  • 1
    English has a very similar construction but without "(that/que)" - Had that piece of skin not existed, (_) sound would not exist either. Or just: If it wasn't for this piece of skin, sound would not exist Nov 2, 2022 at 15:00

2 Answers 2


It's one way of expressing condition.

Cette peau n’existerait point, que le son non plus n’existerait pas

can be rephrased as:

Si cette peau n'existait pas, le son n’existerait pas non plus

If that piece of skin didn't exist, neither would sound

It's a common way to express condition in casual speech:

Je serais toi, je resterais ici (conditional, conditional)

Instead of the less casual:

Si j'étais toi, je resterais ici (si + subjunctive, conditional)

If I were you, I'd stay here

Weirdly enough, I couldn't find anything about this way of forming a conditional sentence, but I know it's correct because of the infamous "si je serais" (si + conditional), a common mistake born from a confusion between the two.

So I couldn't find much on the form with "que" either, so I'm not sure what it adds since the meaning is the same. It does sound more than something I'd find in a old book. I would say "[conditional], [conditional]" is used almost exclusively in speech.

  • In other words, you can read it as sans que.
    – Luke Sawczak
    Nov 2, 2022 at 14:48
  • @LukeSawczak Hmm not really? I'm sure what you mean. Nov 3, 2022 at 14:01
  • Wouldn't you say that in this sentence, if you substituted sans que, it would be easily interpreted? Maybe not everywhere, but in this case I think it works, no?
    – Luke Sawczak
    Nov 3, 2022 at 15:36
  • Wait a second, it would invert the logic.. never mind
    – Luke Sawczak
    Nov 3, 2022 at 15:37
  • « Nous ignorons, que je crois, la demeure de la postérité » — Chateaubriand. Le conditionnel n'apparaît aucunement dans la phrase. Bref, la réponse est incorrecte.
    – gilaro
    Nov 3, 2022 at 17:19

I find the sentence hard to grasp. It may be a relative subordinate clause.

Cette peau n'existerait point, que le son non plus n'existerait pas.

Cette peau n'existerait pas, le son n'existerait pas non plus.

I think this has the effect of reshaping the message. This may sound incredible or amazing, not just a fact, think about the music.

Il me semble que c'est une proposition subordonnée relative (appositive). La virgule semble avoir une place essentielle. En conséquence, en voyant sa position, « que » semble être un pronom relatif.

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