Il ne lui est pas venu à l’idée de poser la question.
eel nuh lwee ay pahv new ah lee-daid poh-zay lah kess-teeYAW. Click below to hear this.*
It didn’t enter his head to ask the question.
Of course, you can substitute any verb you like after the de, as long as it’s in the infinitive (dictionary) form. Il ne lui est pas venu à l’idée de partager la pizza (to share the pizza), for example. De m’acheter un cadeau (to buy me a gift). De se fâcher (to get angry).
I had an ulterior motive in posting this expression. No only is it a good one to know, but it’s great practice in stringing together those “little words”. What makes it problematic in this case, is that the words come more or less in pairs, but the pairs are mixed up and mixed together.
One pair is ne…pas, which represents the two parts of the negative. Another pair is est venu, which forms the two parts of the passé composé, or compound past. Notice how they are tangled together! They are actually interlaced. And then the whole thing is introduced by il, which is the subject of the sentence, and interrupted by lui, which is the indirect object.
So in the worst possible English, the sentence translates this way: It not to him has (not) come the idea to ask the question.
And just to make things even more exciting, here’s how this expression is printed in my 1996 Harper Collins French-English English-French Dictionary: Il ne lui est pas venu pas à l’idée de poser la question. Did you spot the typo?
*Some mobile phones, such as Blackberries, won’t display the audio player. If no player appears, here’s an alternative link to the audio file: