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Elle ne trouve personne qui sache la combler - She can't find anyone who satisfies her. 

merci d'avance

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I am not an expert in the subjunctive but I would approach it this way.

Imagine it was "Elle ne trouve personne qui sait  la combler " .

The meaning would be different  and , I think it would suggest that she would  looking for people  who had the characteristic that they knew how to satisfy her -a bit as if she was looking for someone who happened to be tall , rich , fat  or from Paris etc etc.

"Elle ne trouve personne qui est de Paris" 

There would be a disconnect between her  finding this person and  making a special use of what she had found.

With "Elle ne trouve personne qui sache la combler "  there is not this disconnect  and it is as if she is not so much looking for the person per se but for  what they can do.

That is just they way I look at it  but  there is surely a lot more to it than that.(and I may not be correct either).

thanks for trying.  I'll research the subjunctive in the future and hopefully come across a rule.  Off the top of my head, I'm wondering if this qualifies as an opinion.  I could see it more easily if she were watching people dance and concluded no one knows how to.  But here, it seems more a fact than an opinion -- no one satisfies her -- but it probably is considered an opinion.  On the other hand, what if we were dealing with a fact  -- no one in the room speaks German?

Note the statement is negative and the noun is without article: the person doesn't even exist.

A non-subjunctive verb would be most appropriate in an affirmative statement with a noun with article:

Elle trouve la seule personne qui sait la combler.

(That's just a most clean-cut example to illustrate my point; of course there can be any number of valid variations.) 

Hi Alan -- Don't worry too much about semantic notions ("opinion" etc) in this case -- just think syntax. In general, a relative clause that describes an expression with a negative will have a subjunctive. For example:

"There's no computer that can calculate it." > Il n'y a pas d'ordinateur/n'y a aucun ordinateur qui puisse le calculer.

"There's nothing that can stop me" > Il n'y a rien qui puisse m'empêcher.

"There's nobody that can help me" > Il n'y a personne qui puisse m'aider.


So it's essentially just a piece of syntax: relative clause describing negative expression > subjunctive.

Neil, that is a very sound and useful guidance, a sort of mnemonic. But I must disagree very strongly if that means the greatest weight be on the mechanics of syntax. There've got to be sufficient logic, sensibility, realism, to explain and uphold why a language is the way is is. That's the reason why people instinctively keep asking questions like 'Why the subjunctive?'

Remember, though, that language is a complex, evolving system. So in some instances, an aspect of the language evolves in a particular way where you can perhaps identify a particular "connection with reality" or "logic" that has driven that evolution. But equally, in some cases, it seems that an aspect of the language evolves in particular way simply because "that's how the language hung together as a system as it evolved". Or to put it another way, my take is that there are aspects of the language that simply "evolved as bits of structure".

If your worry is that the explanation focusses too much on the "mechanics of syntax", you could transform it into the "mechanics of semantics". For example, you could say that subjunctives encode non-assertions, and that a description of a negated concept is something that cannot be asserted, and hence the subjunctive is chosen to encode this. I think that's just a bit of mental gymnastics that doesn't really buy you anything extra: whether you see things from the point of view of the syntax or the semantics, ultimately, the language has evolved a fairly mechanistic link in this case.

But the "Why the subjunctive?" is also a bit of a non-question really. We try to look for patterns "after the fact" as to why the language might have evolved in this way, but in a parallel universe, the language could have evolved in a different way.

(P.S. Other cases where the choice of subjunctive is "just a piece of syntax" include when any verb phrase is the subject of another sentence: you could argue about whether it's an assertion or a non-assertion or a semantic fuzzy whatever, but ultimately, the language has evolved such that the condition of being a verb phrase that is the subject of the sentence is sufficient to dictate that the verb will be in the subjunctive. But... I also think it's OK to call a spade a spade and describe things in that way.)

Language users though, at all levels of proficiency, will continue to ask like questions. And they **will not** be satisfied with prescriptivistic answers. (Especially the children, the most intelligent of us all.)
That fact alone (which I believe to be true)- and given that language is born and evolves of the mass- says to me that it is that 'grass root' constant quest for the visceral intelligence of language, that is both its true base and the drive of its evolution.

Incidentally, the 'you could argue' view (in your PS) sounds quite reasonable to me. I even believe it is one case where logic drives syntax.


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