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I tried Google translate and ChatGPT, and they both translated the two different English sentences 'we won't know anything anymore' and 'we won't know nothing anymore', to the same French sentence 'nous ne saurons plus rien'.

I know that in an informal speech, the two English sentences may have similar meanings. However, if we follow the standard English grammar, the second sentence should mean 'we will know something'. Then how to translate 'we won't know nothing anymore' to French, in the meaning 'we will know something'?

I asked ChatGPT again, it still translated it to 'nous ne saurons plus rien', which confused me. Can 'nous ne saurons plus rien' means both 'we won't know anything anymore' and 'we will know something'?

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    Although I always watch out on what Google translate and ChatGPT say, I would strongly agree with them on that one. How sure are you you are feeding them the correct information? What makes you say that "we won't know nothing anymore" means "we will know something"? Aren't you missing a negation? To have something that means "we will know something" I would have "'we won't not know nothing anymore". "we won't know nothing anymore" just looks like a wrong double negative to me.
    – None
    Jun 15, 2023 at 10:51
  • Actually "we won't not know anything anymore" would probably be more standard English than "we won't not know nothing anymore".
    – None
    Jun 15, 2023 at 11:29
  • @None "We won't know nothing anymore" is pretty plausible, at least in a movie with mediocre writers where they try to colloquialize the dramatic "We'll no longer know nothing" or dramatize the colloquial "We'll know something." Whereas "We won't not know nothing/anything anymore" is a very far stretch (in any dialect, note).
    – Luke Sawczak
    Jun 15, 2023 at 11:32
  • @None You're right, of course, that there are dialects in which "We won't know nothing anymore" would mean "We'll no longer know anything", and that there is ambiguity with which ChatGPT can't deal, except for the fact that such phrases are much less likely to make it into the written corpora it uses — at least not without an apostrophe instead of a 'g' or 'no more' instead of 'anymore' :) CrapGPT does try to convey that this is single negation by adding 'pantoute', even though it hilariously titles that snippet "French: Incompréhension Totale"
    – Luke Sawczak
    Jun 15, 2023 at 11:39
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    @None I found in wiki "Languages where multiple negatives affirm each other are said to have negative concord or emphatic negation". Many vernacular dialects of modern English are negative concord languages, but modern standard English is non-negative-concord language.
    – wyhorgyh
    Jun 15, 2023 at 11:59

1 Answer 1

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In a vacuum and intuitively, nous ne saurons plus rien means "we won't know anything anymore".

In a conversation, you could pause before rien and emphasize it or surround it with context to make it clear the second meaning is implied.

But most likely you need periphrasis like

Nous ne serons plus ignorants de tout

Nous sortirons de l'ignorance

Of course, a double negation can always be replaced by a positive equivalent:

Nous saurons quelque chose

About Google Translate and ChatGPT, it looks like both are basically wrong in that instance. Google never provides context or justification and often does a poor job of translating idiomatic or logically complex sentences, so I'm not surprised. ChatGPT was not meant as a translation engine but I would expect a little more perspective from it instead of a dry and, arguably, wrong answer.

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  • Thanks. In Chinese, double negatives always become a positive. As native Chinese speaker, we usually use double negatives to emphasize the positive tone, so in the post I just wonder if there are similar expressions in French. However, it seems that the French doesn't share the property that two negatives make a positive.
    – wyhorgyh
    Jun 15, 2023 at 13:32
  • @wyhorgyh Yes, it usually does. For example ce n'est pas rien means c'est quelque chose so 2 negatives become a positive. Jun 15, 2023 at 13:40
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    But in your sentence, "rien" is also used in the single negative form. Ne ... [plus rien] is a simple negative. Interpreting it as a double negative [Ne plus] ... rien is far-fetched and usually not the right way to see it (as @LukeSawczak also seems to point out is the case in English). Jun 15, 2023 at 13:44
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    I don't think that Google Translate is wrong in its translation of 'we won't know nothing anymore,' because if somebody were to actually use that sentence in English, chances are it would mean "nous ne saurons plus rien" in their dialect. But Google Translate also translates "we will no longer know nothing," which I believe is unambiguous, to "nous ne saurons plus rien." Jun 15, 2023 at 16:31
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    In its positive sense, "we won't know nothing anymore" may be translated to "désormais, on ne peut plus ne plus rien savoir".
    – Graffito
    Jun 15, 2023 at 17:39

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