The ne explétif is an example of those words in the French language that don't carry any meaning on their own but are used for syntax or pronunciation reasons.

You usually find the ne explétif in subjunctive subordinate clauses following verbs with negative connotation (e.g. to fear, to avoid, to doubt). Here, the ne explétif is used to emphasise the negative aspect of what came before it.

Look at these examples of usage:

Elle doute qu'il ne vienne.She doubts he's coming.

Je te fais confiance à moins que tu ne me mentes.I trust you unless you lie to me.

Évitons que la situation ne dégénère !Let's avoid the situation getting worse!

Even though it looks like a negation, the expletive ne carries NO NEGATIVE meaning.


ATTENTION:
 Note that the ne alone does not make the sentence negative. You always need the pas to make it a negation, for example:

Tu as peur qu'il ne parte pas.You're afraid he won't leave.

Tu as peur qu'il ne parte.You're afraid he will leave.
 

See also these lessons about expressions using the ne explétif:

Sans que (+ ne explétif) + Le Subjonctif = Without doing

À moins que + ne explétif + Le Subjonctif = Unless you do

Plutôt que + ne explétif + Le Subjonctif = Rather than you do

Avant que + ne explétif + Le Subjonctif = Before I do

De peur que + ne explétif + Le Subjonctif = For fear that

 

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Examples and resources

Elle doute qu'il ne vienne.She doubts he's coming.
Tu as peur qu'il ne parte.You're afraid he will leave.
Je te fais confiance à moins que tu ne me mentes.I trust you unless you lie to me.
Évitons que la situation ne dégénère !Let's avoid the situation getting worse!

counter example


Tu as peur qu'il ne parte pas.You're afraid he won't leave.
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