In “correct” French, “I don’t know.” is “Je ne sais pas.”
But in spoken French, people speak fast — and they don’t hesitate to “eat” a small word if it gets in their way! That’s why in real, everyday French, we would rather say “Je sais pas.” We just dropped the “ne” !
You’re probably wondering — can you drop the “ne”, too? Is it appropriate for your age? Can you use it in writing?
Today, let’s look at some rules and examples for dropping the “ne” in everyday spoken French.
C’est parti !
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1) Drop the “ne” – the basics
In “correct” French, we make negative sentences by adding ne… pas around the verb. And in everyday spoken French, we often drop the “ne,” so the negation only relies on “pas”.
Je tiens cette girafe. = I’m holding this giraffe.
Je ne tiens pas cette girafe. = I’m not holding this giraffe. [official French]
Je tiens pas cette girafe. = I’m not holding this giraffe. [everyday French]
It is very common in French!
It’s not rude, it’s not overly familiar, and you can use it at any age.
You can use it with your friends, with a baker, a shopkeeper, waitstaff… even with most clients and coworkers, to be honest.
You can also use it in writing! Especially writing that mostly follows the informal rules of spoken French, such as friendly emails, text messages, WhatsApp messages…
When not to drop the “ne”: important business emails, written customer service communications, administrative papers, or any time it’s your job to write “proper” French (like French written exams.)
Otherwise, go for it 🙂
2) Drop the “ne” – Apostrophes
Dropping the “ne” might introduce or remove an apostrophe in your sentence, because of these two rules:
“Je” + vowel → J’ + vowel
“Ne” + vowel → N’ + vowel
Je n’aime pas les bananes. = I don’t like bananas. [official French]
J’aime pas les bananes. = I don’t like bananas. (Je → J’)
In everyday spoken French, we often drop the “e” in “Je” and the “u” in “Tu,” whenever possible. That’s (part of) why fast spoken French is so hard to understand!
3) Drop the “ne” – with “plus,” “jamais”...
Ne…pas means “not”, but we also use Ne…plus (= not… anymore) or Ne… jamais (= never) and other expressions. In these instances, you can still drop the “ne” !
Je ne sais plus quel jour on est. (= I don’t know what day is it anymore.)
→ Je sais plus quel jour on est.
Je ne suis jamais allée en Normandie. (= I’ve never been to Normandy)
→ Je suis jamais allée en Normandie.
4) Drop the “ne” – Further pronunciation
Dropping the ne can be a first attempt at “eating” even more sounds in fast spoken French.
Je sais pas. → sounds like “Chais pas” [sheh pah]
Je suis pas. → sounds like “Chuis pas” [shwee pah]
(Informally, “je + s” generally morphs into “sh” sound.)
Il n’y a pas (there’s not) → Il y a pas → sounds like “Ya pas”
“Ya pas de souci !” = Il (n’)y a pas de souci ! = There’s no problem!
5) Drop the “ne” – With la liaison ?
Finally, it can sometimes be hard to tell if there’s a “ne” or not when listening to spoken French – because of la liaison.
In a normal sentence, we have:
Tu n’es pas allé au ciné depuis janvier. (= you haven’t been to the movies since January.)
The “e” of ne is dropped because it’s in front of a vowel, otherwise all is as expected.
Without the “ne”, we have:
→ Tu es pas allé au ciné depuis janvier.
(→ A bit more informal still: T’es pas allé au ciné depuis janvier.)
When either of these sentences — the normal sentence OR the one without the “ne” — are spoken in fast French (as normal), it’s hard to distinguish whether there’s a “ne” there or not.
But, it’s even more difficult to hear when we have la liaison!
In a “liaison” sentence, we have:
On n’a pas mangé depuis ce matin. (= We haven’t eaten since this morning)
→ On a pas mangé depuis ce matin. (It sounds the same!)
With la liaison, the “n” in “On” is pronounced… so even if you drop the “ne”, the sentence will sound the same.
On the other hand:
Julien n’a plus de place chez lui. (= Julien doesn’t have space any more in his house.)
→ Julien a plus de place chez lui.
How would you read that last sentence?
…Well, in this case, the two sentences don’t sound the same. There’s no “n” sound after “Julien” – because there’s no la liaison after someone’s name!
But there’s one more ambiguity: should you say [pluh] or [pluhss] ?
(Spoiler : with the context, and knowing it’s a negative sentence, we’d say [plu].)
Do you have any more questions about dropping the “ne” in spoken French? Did you learn something new today? Let me know in the comments!
À tout de suite.
I’ll see you in the next lesson!
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