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French grammar - The subjunctive and the ne explétif

The subjunctive and the ne explétif

There are certain subjective conjunctions that require the subordinate clause to be expressed in the negative. This is done by inserting the particle ne.

These subjective conjunctions usually involve verbs with a negative connotation such as 'to fear', 'to doubt' etc.

Examples include:

craindre que or avoir craint que = 'to fear that'

avoir peur que - 'to be afraid that'

de peur que - 'for fear that' or 'lest (that)'

douter que or redouter que - 'to doubt that'

-- douter only takes the ne explétif if the main clause is negated.

-- The reflexive se douter ('to suspect') does not take require the ne explétif in any circumstance.

The ne explétif in the subordinate clause serves to emphasize the negative aspect of the conjunction.

Note that the inclusion of pas in addition to the explétif ne is likely to completely change the meaning of the sentence.

Examples:
Je crains qu'il n'arrive pas à l'heure.
I fear that he won't arrive on time.
Je crains que tu ne deviennes un peu snob.
I'm afraid you're becoming a bit of a snob.
Je crains que son souhait ne se réalise.
I fear his wish will come true.
Il a vraiment craint que je sois sérieux.
He really feared that I was serious.

définitif (adj) means 'permanent' or 'final'

On a craint que cette mesure temporaire ne devienne définitive.
It is feared that this temporary measure will become permanent.
J’ai peur qu’il ne soit trop tard.
I'm afraid it's too late.
N'as-tu pas peur que ta famille le sache ?
Aren't you afraid that your family will find out (know)?
Il a bien peur que son père soit malade.
He is afraid that his father is sick.
Il ne voulait pas te le dire de peur que tu n'aies raison.
He didn't want to tell you for fear that you were right.
Je lui ai fait une liste de peur qu'il n'oublie quelque chose.
I made him a list lest he forget something.

admettre (verb) means 'to admit' ot 'to allow'

infliger (verb) means 'to impose' or 'to inflict'

Nous ne voulions pas l'admettre de peur que le juge ne nous inflige une amende.
We didn't want to admit it lest the judge impose a fine on us.
Il était à craindre que cette mesure temporaire ne devienne définitive.
It was feared that this temporary measure would become permanent.
Il ne doute pas qu'elle ne dise la vérité.
He does not doubt that she is telling the truth.
Nous ne doutons pas que nos voisins ne soient riches.
We have no doubt that our neighbors are rich.
Nous redoutons qu'il amène sa nouvelle petite amie à dîner.
We're dreading he's bringing his new girlfriend to dinner.
On a peur qu’ils ne le fassent.
We are afraid that they will do it.
On a peur qu’ils ne le fassent pas.
We're afraid they won't do it.

Note that complete change in meaning with pas

Elle craint que je ne vienne.
She is afraid that I will come.
Elle craint que je ne vienne pas.
She is afraid that I will not come.

Note that complete change in meaning with pas