Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Negation

French gets really quite complicated. In English, we negate things like this:

I am tall =/= I am not tall
I (do) play football =/= I do not play football

In French, you have the construction 'ne...pas' which goes around the verb.

Je suis =/= je ne suis pas

But you also have other constructions like reflexives (I do something to myself) or other grammatical items like 'to him' or 'there' which need to be before the verb, too. For simple examples you can just follow the same rule and it works beautifully:

Je m'appelle X =/= je ne m'appelle pas X

But what about complex things like 'I did not go there' or 'I had not given it to them'?

Je n'y suis pas allé(e)
Je ne le leur avais pas donné

As if to prove my point, that last example (literally I not it to-them had not given) took me a few minutes and I'm still not sure it's right or what it ought to actually be.

Sometimes it gets so complicated that I'm sure I miss important bits or put them in the wrong order, and every complex sentence seems to require a balance between saying the right thing, properly, and saying something comprehensible enough, quickly enough that the person is still listening by the end of the sentence. But essentially I would say that all communication is a compromise between what you meant to say and what you can get across, and that's an important thing to keep in mind when working through a second language.

It's a daily struggle!

PS:

Even better, people here often miss out the 'ne' and retain only the 'pas', which seems to simplify things, even if it is grammatically dubious. I personally notice myself remembering the 'ne' and forgetting the 'pas'; I'm not sure whether that makes me difficult to understand, but surely if everyone misses out half of the negative anyway, I'm allowed to do the same?!

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