1. Education

Only / Not Only in French

Ne... que, Seulement, and their negatives

By

There are two common French equivalents for the restrictive "only" in English: seulement and ne... que. These two terms mean essentially the same thing, but seulement is an adverb of quantity while ne... que is a negative adverb, so they're used a bit differently.

Seulement

The simplest way to say "only" in French is with the adverb seulement, which can qualify a noun, verb, or clause.

   J'ai seulement un livre.
   I have only one book.

   Il voit seulement les films étrangers.
   He only sees foreign movies.

Note how the placement of seulement can change the meaning:

   J'ai lu seulement deux pages pour te faire plaisir.
   I read only two pages to please you. (You didn't want me to read more.)

   J'ai lu deux pages seulement pour te faire plaisir.
   I read two pages only to please you.  (I didn't feel like reading, but I did it for you.)

   Il veut seulement travailler à la banque.
   He only wants to work at the bank. (He doesn't want to invest there).

   Il veut travailler seulement à la banque.
   He wants to work only at the bank. (He doesn't want to work at the store).
 

Ne... que

An equally common but slightly more complicated way to say "only" is with ne... que, which is used similarly to other negative adverbs: ne goes in front of the verb and que usually follows it.

   Je n'ai qu'un livre.
   I have only one book.

   Il ne voit que les films étrangers.
   He sees only foreign movies.

As with seulement, you can change the meaning by placing que directly in front of the word you want to qualify.

   Je n'ai lu que deux pages pour te faire plaisir.
   I read only two pages to please you.

   Je n'ai lu deux pages que pour te faire plaisir.
   I read two pages only to please you.

   Il ne veut que travailler à la banque.
   He only wants to work at the bank.

   Il ne veut travailler qu'à la banque.
   He wants to work only at the bank.

Note that indefinite and partitive articles do not change to de after ne... que, the way they do after other negative adverbs (learn more):

   Je n'ai qu'un livre.
   I have only one book.

   Il ne veut que des idées.
   He only wants ideas, He's just looking for some ideas.
 

Negation: Not only

To say "not only," you can negate ne... que into ne... pas que, which can stand alone or be followed by additional information:

   Je n'ai pas que 3 livres (j'ai 2 stylos aussi).
   I don't have only 3 books (I have 2 pens too)

   Il n'y a pas que le travail (il faut vivre aussi).
   Work isn't all there is; There's more [to life] than just work.

   Il n'était pas qu'en retard....
   He wasn't just late (there's more to it than that).


Seulement has two negatives. The first one, ne... pas seulement is pretty much interchangeable with ne... pas que.

   Je n'ai pas seulement 3 livres...
   I don't have only 3 books ...

   Il n'y a pas seulement le travail....
   Work isn't all there is...

   Il n'était pas seulement en retard....
   He wasn't just late...

The other negative, non seulement, cannot be used in a stand-alone clause; it must be balanced with something like aussi, mais encore, etc.

   Il y a non seulement le travail ; il faut vivre aussi.
   Work isn't all there is; you have to live too.    Non seulement j'ai 3 livres, mais aussi 2 stylos.
   I don't have only 3 books, I have 2 pens too.

   Non seulement il était en retard, mais encore il était ivre.
   He was not only late, but drunk (too). Not only was he late, he was (also) drunk.

  1. About.com
  2. Education
  3. French Language
  4. French Vocabulary
  5. Intermediate French Vocab
  6. Only - Ne que - Seulement - Not only - Ne pas que - Non seulement - French Vocabulary

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.