Ne Explétif

This grammatical aspect is for advanced learners. If you want to learn about negation, use this article instead.

Here are the main aspects you need to understand about the NE explétif:

  • The NE explétif is an adverb which is found by itself.

  • It is different from the NE found in ne...pas, ne, ne...jamais.

  • The NE explétif is not a negation.

  • The NE explétif carries no meaning. It is therefore optional.

  • It is used for the purpose of eloquence.

  • It makes a sentence sound more formal.

  • It is still used in written French, but becomes rarer in spoken French.

  • It is placed before the main verb.


1. Je crains qu'elle ne parte.

I'm afraid she will leave.

2. Je crains qu'elle ne parte pas.

I'm afraid she won't leave.

How to use the NE explétif

1. In subordinate of comparison

In subordinate of comparison, the NE explétif can be used when the comparison expresses inequality (superiority or inferiority).


Je suis arrivée plus tard que je ne le pensais.

I arrived later than I thought.

Note that you could also write: je suis arrivée plus tard que je le pensais.

You can therefore use the NE explétif if the main clause contains one of the following terms:











2. in subordinate introduced by sans que, avant que, à moins que

- In subordinate introduced by sans que, the NE explétif can only be used if the main clause is negative.


Je n'ai pas compris sans qu'il ne m'explique.

I did not understand without him explaining to me.

Note that you would say: J'ai compris sans qu'il m'explique. (No NE explétif here).

- In subordinate introduced by avant que and à moins que, the NE explétif can be used whether the main clause is positive or negative.


Je l'achète avant qu'il ne soit trop tard.

I'm buying it before it is too late.

Il ne le fera pas à moins qu'on ne lui demande.

He won't do it unless we ask him to.

Also note that sans que, avant que, à moins que are subjunctive triggers.

3. in some subordinate clauses

The Ne explétif can be triggered when the main clause is not negative and contains verbs or expressions of fear, doubt or prevention.

Here is a list of the most common triggers:

- appréhender que - to dread that

- avoir peur que - to be afraid that

- craindre que - to fear that

- douter que - to doubt that

- empêcher que - to prevent that

- éviter que - to avoid that

- redouter que - to dread that

- risquer que - to risk that


1. Tu as peur qu'il ne morde?

Are you scared he will bite?

2. Nous évitons qu'ils ne nous voient.

We avoid them seeing us.

Note that all these expressions are subjunctive triggers


For French A Level students with any exam board:

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