Memorize This Fast Spoken French Rule: Drop the “ne”


Do you ever wish that you sounded more fluent when speaking French? You’re not alone. It’s one of the most popular goals my students have, even if they’ve been learning for decades.Luckily, there are a few simple things that you can do when speaking French to sound more authentically French.

Today, I’m going to tell you more about something we do in spoken French grammar that’s completely different from the formal French you learned in high school. Once you memorize and adopt this tip, you’ll immediately sound a little more fluent. Are you ready to learn? C’est parti.

C’est parti !

1) Drop the “ne” in “ne… pas”

In correct French, most negative sentences use ne … pas.
For example:

  • Je ne sais pas. = I don’t know,
  • Tu ne veux pas dîner dans ce restaurant ? = Don’t you want to eat in this restaurant ?
  • Elles n’ont pas besoin de ça. = They don’t need this.
  • Ça ne me fait pas peur.= It doesn’t scare me, that’s not scary.

You can already notice that before a vowel, ne turns into n’.
In everyday spoken French, though, using “ne… pas” is too formal. Most times, we instead drop the ne : Ne..pas → “pas”

So we’d say instead:

  • Je sais pas.
  • Tu veux pas dîner dans ce restaurant ?
  • Elles ont pas besoin de ça.
  • Ça me fait pas peur.

We only need the “pas” after the verb to turn it into a negation.

Extra mile:

  • The question “Tu ne veux pas dîner dans ce restaurant ?” is actually already informal French. In correct French grammar, we switch around the subject and the verb in questions, as in: Ne veux-tu pas dîner dans ce restaurant ? But this inversion is too formal in everyday spoken French, and doubly so with the negation. Negative questions with inversion are basically only seen in theatrical speeches. Learn more: Understand Fast Spoken French: Questions Aren’t Obvious (Comme une Française free lesson)
  • Elles n’ont pas besoin de ça. → This question uses the structure avoir besoin (de quelque chose) (= literally “to have the need” = to need something). The verb is avoir (= to have), and here besoin is invariable.

2) Dropping the “ne” : consequences

Dropping the ne means that the subject now comes right before the verb. And when a subject comes right before a verb (especially a pronoun, like Je, Tu or Elles for instance), they tend to blend together.

Most frequently, this comes with la liaison. Just like in “Elles ont pas besoin de ça.

Basically, when:

  • a subject pronoun comes before a verb
  • And the subject pronoun ends in a silent letter (like Nous, Vous, Ils, Elles, or On)
  • And the verb starts with a vowel (like the conjugation of avoir or many forms of être and much more)
  • Then the silent letter is now pronounced.

In la liaison, a silent “s” now sounds like a “z”.

La liaison is part of correct French pronunciation – and is also present in everyday spoken French.

Click here to learn more: How to Use ‘La Liaison’ Properly (Rules + Examples) (Comme une Française free lesson)

Another consequence of dropping the ne, is that Je before a verb often turns into J’ :

  • In correct French, Je becomes J’ before a vowel : J’ai faim. (= I’m hungry)
  • In everyday spoken French, Je becomes J’ whenever it’s faster to pronounce it that way: “J’prends le métro.” = I’m taking the metro.

(Don’t use that informal pronunciation in writing, though)

So we’d have: Je n’ai pas faim. (= I’m not hungry, where we keep the “e” in “Je” before the consonant “n”) → J’ai pas faim.

And with “Tu” we have a similar situation:

  • In correct French, Tu never drops the “u”
  • In everyday spoken French, Tu becomes T’ whenever it’s faster to pronounce it that way, most specifically before a vowel.

And that means that dropping the “ne” can lead to dropping the “u” in “tu” :
Tu n’es pas là. (= You’re not here) → Tu es pas là. (drop the “ne”) → T’es pas là. (cut the “u” now that it comes before a vowel.)

Or : Tu n’aurais pas un ticket de métro ? (= You wouldn’t have a metro ticket (you can give me)?) → T’aurais pas un ticket de métro ?

So, to recap:

  • By dropping the “ne”, you can have the subject pronoun right next to the subject.
  • This can lead to “la liaison” (when the pronoun ends in silent “s”)
  • Or Je / Tu can become J’ / T’ (cut their vowel in informal pronunciation)

Le truc en plus : By the way, in informal French we very often cut letters whenever we can. For instance, I also cut the “e” in “T’aurais pas un ticket d’métro”. Because French people love eating letters in informal speech. Learn more with these other Comme une Française free lessons:

3) Drop the “ne” with other negations: jamais, rien, plus

We also use “ne” with other negations than “pas.”

The main ones are:

  • Ne… jamais = never
  • Ne… rien = anything, nothing
  • Ne… personne = anybody, nobody

And we also drop the “ne” with these!

For example:

  • Je ne l’ai jamais vue. = I never saw her. Je l’ai jamais vue.
  • Il ne fait rien. = He doesn’t do anything, he does nothing.Il fait rien.
  • Il n’y a personne. = Nobody’s here, there isn’t anybody. Il y a personne.

And in spoken French, “Il y a” (= there is) simply becomes “Ya” → “Y’a personne.

** Le truc en plus : **
French expression: Ça (ne) fait rien. = “It does nothing” literally = Nevermind / It’s OK / It’s nothing, don’t worry about it.

The extra mile 1 : more negations

Other common negations in French:

  • Ne… que = only
  • Ne… aucun = none, any of
  • Personne ne… = Nobody [subject]…

For example (in correct written French, and then informal spoken French) :

  • Je ne bois que de l’eau. = I only drink water.Je bois que de l’eau.
  • Il n’a lu aucun de ces livres. = He didn’t read any of these books.Il a lu aucun de ces livres.
  • Personne ne nous voit. = Nobody sees us.Personne nous voit.

The extra mile 2 : how “pas” became a negation – and “thing” became “nothing”

In French, “un pas” is “a step” – and now it also means “not.”
In Latin, “rien” (or “res”) used to mean “the thing” (as in “res publica”) – yet now in French, “rien” means exactly the opposite: “nothing.

How did that happen?

Well, it starts with “ne”.

Negations used to only need “ne”, like:

  • Je ne vois. = I can’t see.
  • Il ne comprend. = He doesn’t understand.
  • Elle ne marche. = She doesn’t walk.

But “ne” is too small and subtle for everyday uses, so people started tacking on an extra word after the verb, like une goutte (a droplet):

  • Je ne vois goutte. = I can’t see even a droplet.
  • Il ne comprend rien. = He doesn’t understand a thing.
  • Elle ne marche pas. = She doesn’t walk even a step.

But it was difficult to remember all these specific negations for each verb, so people now started using “pas” everywhere instead:

  • Je ne vois pas. = I can’t see. I see nothing.
  • Il ne comprend pas. = He doesn’t understand.
  • Elle ne marche pas. = She doesn’t walk.

And that’s how “a step” became “not”, and “rien” became “nothing.”

4) Not anymore: “Ne plus”

Ne… plus means “not anymore.”
But the simple “plus” also means “more.”
So when you drop the “ne” in the negation, you can’t tell which one it is!

For instance:
Elle conduit plus. = She drives more (than that other person / than before.)
Elle (ne) conduit plus. = She doesn’t drive anymore.

Or Je (ne) t’aime plus. = I don’t love you anymore.
Je t’aime plus ! = I love you more.

Or: Merci pour la soupe, mais j’en veux plus.
Is it “Thanks for the soup, but I want some more”, or is it a negative sentence with a dropped “ne”, Merci pour la soupe mais je n’en veux plus. (= Thanks for the soup but I don’t want any more.) ?

The answer is: is the final “s” silent or not?

When the “s” is pronounced (“pluss”), it always means “more”. And that’s how we clear up the possible ambiguity, when the context isn’t perfectly clear. Also, keep in mind that even native French people are well aware of that problem. We sometimes need to ask for clarification about “plus”, so feel free to do the same!

Click here to learn more: French Grammar: How to Say “Plus” (free Comme une Française lesson)

5) The Extra Mile for Advanced Learners: Dropping the “pas” (poetry or formal French)

In French poetry, theater, songwriting, or very stereotypically formal conversation, you might find another kind of negation: dropping the “pas”.

As I’ve mentioned above, “ne” used to be the only negation you needed in French, before the invention of “pas” or “rien” etc. Well, for some verbs, you can still find some negative sentences with only “ne.”

Mostly with a few verbs, like savoir (= to know), oser (= to dare), pouvoir (= can), like: Je ne sais. / Je n’ose. / Je ne peux.

You also find it in the expression: N’empêche ! (= “doesn’t prevent” literally, this expression means “nevertheless” or “all the same.”)

For even more fun facts on French grammar, there are two expressions in informal French that are negative sentences without “pas”, and without “ne” either:

  • “T’inquiètes !” (= short for “Ne t’inquiètes pas de ça !”) = Don’t worry about it.
  • “T’occupes !” (= “Ne t’occupes pas de ça !”) = Don’t ask questions about it.

6) Drop the “ne” : applying what we’ve seen

Try applying what we’ve seen to the following sentences, to create their informal spoken French version:

  • Je ne mange pas de viande. = I don’t eat meat.
  • Tu n’oublies jamais rien. = You never forget anything.
  • On n’a rien dit. = We didn’t say anything.
  • Vous n’avez plus de tomates ? = “You don’t have any tomato anymore?” literally, or “Did you run out of tomatoes?”

Take some time to think about it.


Fantastic. Here’s a possible result:

  • Je mange pas de viande. (simply drop the ne)
  • T’oublies jamais rien. (drop the ne + cut the “u” of “Tu” before a vowel)
  • On a rien dit. (drop the ne + new liaison between “On” and “a”, which means there’s an added “n” sound… right where then’” used to be anyway)
  • Vous avez plus de tomates ? (drop the ne + liaison between “Vous” and “avez” (“z” sound) + the “s” in “plus” stays silent)

So how did it go? Did you manage to find the right answers? Congrats!

Keep on learning more about understanding fast spoken French, the obstacles on your way, and how you will overcome them.

Click here to get your next lesson:

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  • I find that the material you post on your Saturday
    Comme une Française blogs complements very
    well the content of the 30 Day Challenges.
    Excellent stuff Géraldine for those on the path
    of improving their French. Merci beaucoup ..

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