Restrictive ne … que = only (compound tenses)

Look at these examples:

Je n'ai que fait mes devoirs.
I only did my homework.

Nous n'avons regardé qu'un film.
We watched only one film.

Nous n'avons que mangé des bonbons
We only ate sweets (that's all we did!)

Nous n'avons mangé que des bonbons
We ate sweets only (we ate nothing else)

Notice that whereas with ne ... pas (not), pas could only be placed after the auxiliary verb (être or avoir) in compound tenses. See Using 'ne ... pas' with compound tenses (negation)
The restrictive que in ne ... que can be placed either after the auxiliary verb, or in front of the word it's restricting. You should place que in front of the word you restrict.

Note that ne is always placed in front of the auxiliary verb, BUT que can never be in front of the auxiliary verb.


ATTENTION:  
The tricky part here is that in English you place the restrictive only before the verb most of the time, even when the restriction applies to other elements of the sentence, and use intonation to insist on this element:
I only WENT to the cinema. vs I only went to the CINEMA.

In French we use the position of the restrictive que as an indicator of which element is being restricted:

Je ne suis qu'allé au cinéma 
I only went to the cinema (I did nothing else)

 -> Here the restriction in on the action of going, meaning I've only DONE this, only this action.

VERSUS

Je ne suis allé qu'au cinéma
I went to the cinema only (I went nowhere else)

-> Here the restriction is on the destination, meaning I only went THERE, only this place.


NOTE: You can also use seulement which means only in French, though it is not as elegant.

Je suis seulement allé au cinéma.
I only went to the cinema.

 

See also the simple tenses cases Restrictive ne … que = only (simple tenses)

Learn more about these related French grammar topics

Examples and resources

Nous n'avons mangé que des bonbons
We ate sweets only (we ate nothing else)


Je n'ai que fait mes devoirs.
I only did my homework.


Nous n'avons que mangé des bonbons
We only ate sweets (that's all we did!)


Nous n'avons regardé qu'un film.
We watched only one film.


Je ne suis allé qu'au cinéma
I went to the cinema only (I went nowhere else)



Je ne suis qu'allé au cinéma 
I only went to the cinema (I did nothing else)


Je suis seulement allé au cinéma.
I only went to the cinema.


Q&A

David

Kwiziq community member

17 August 2018

10 replies

I see no difference between "he only ate sweets" and "he ate sweets only". I have only encountered " que" after the past participle before the object

Chris

Kwiziq community member

17 August 2018

17/08/18

The difference is this:


He only ate sweets: he didn't do anything else but eat them.


he ate sweets only: he didn'eat anything else but sweets. 


-- Chris. 

David

Kwiziq community member

17 August 2018

17/08/18

that really is splitting hairs

Chris

Kwiziq community member

18 August 2018

18/08/18

Yes, in this particular example but what about this one:


Elle n'a qu'embrassé Alex. -- She only kissed Alex. 


Elle n'a embrassé qu'Alex. -- She kissed only Alex. 

Max

Kwiziq community member

18 August 2018

18/08/18

My native speaking French friends question whether "Elle n'a qu'embrassé Alex" is good or idiomatic French to begin with. I speak fluently and frequently and have never encountered this construction. 


Parenthetically, to say "She only kissed Alex" isn't even very good English and is at best used only out loud - not in written form - as the phrase is subject to interpretation, i.e. it's not clear. The position of ONLY in English is problemmatic to begin with consider these placement versions.


Only she wanted to kiss Alex. (She was the only one who wanted to kiss Alex)


She only wanted to kiss Alex. (She wanted to kiss Alex - no big deal deal, OK?)


She wanted only to kiss Alex. (She wanted to kiss Alex and nothing more.)


She wanted to only kiss Alex. (She wanted to kiss Alex and nothing more - a more awkward version of the preceding line.)


She wanted to kiss only Alex. (The sole person she wanted to kiss was Alex - Alex and only Alex)


She wanted to kiss Alex only. (She wanted to kiss Alex and no one else - pretty much the same as the preceding placement).


To say "she only kissed Alex" where that phrasing means "she merely kissed Alex (and nothing else)", one might say "elle a embrassé Alex, et rien de plus."


I know this isn't an English forum, but the above might underline the problems both languages have with placement of exclusionary QUE and ONLY. Personally, I think you're better off trying to avoid both, since both are subject to confusion.


max


David

Kwiziq community member

18 August 2018

18/08/18

I think the example now given does not differentiate between either meaning, that is to say either example can be used to express either meaning depending on intonation when speaking. If I meant that it was only Alex whom she kissed I would use "seulement". If I wished to say that she kissed and nothing else I would say " Elle n'a fait qu' embrasser..."


So far I have found no instance other than this lesson using the construction " n'a que.." plus past participle, rather than " n'a past participle que"


I note that Max shares a similar view. Please would you cite an example in literature where the " n'a que" construction is used.

Max

Kwiziq community member

18 August 2018

18/08/18

Vous avez fait mouche!

Alan

Kwiziq community member

19 August 2018

19/08/18

https://www.babelio.com/livres/Roy-Traces/236987
Je n'ai rien fait d'important aujourd'hui, je n'ai que vécu.
La sérénité à inventer, d'un geste à l'autre, l'enchaînement des actes... vers quoi ?
La vie, simplement. La vie allant vers la vie et se justifiant soi-même. La vie, fin de la vie. 
Sans but, mordre les choses, les minutes, les espaces. 

David

Kwiziq community member

20 August 2018

20/08/18

Very drôle but vecu here is used as an adjective not as a past participle.

Alan

Kwiziq community member

20 August 2018

20/08/18

How can it be an adjective after avoir? Of course it's a past participle.


David

Kwiziq community member

21 August 2018

21/08/18

You are right. Thank you for the citation. I do, though, find the expression strange. Life, however, is too short to spend time discussing such niceties. I shall continue to avoid such usage, despite the lesson until I have researched it further. I do though appreciate your comments.

David

Kwiziq community member

17 August 2018

5 replies

Frequently I encounter French people who use "que" on its own.

Chris

Kwiziq community member

17 August 2018

17/08/18

Do you mean something like this:


Que tu passes des merveilleuses vacances. -- Have a great vacation!


Literally: that you may pass great holidays. 


Here you can pretend that the first part of the main clause was omitted. It may be something like: Je te souhaite, ...


-- Chris. 

David

Kwiziq community member

17 August 2018

17/08/18

No I meant that I often encounter the use of que without the preceding ne to mean only

Cécile

Kwiziq language super star

18 August 2018

18/08/18

Hi David,


 In spoken French the 'ne' will often be omitted, so you might hear:


Tu amènes que lui = you only bring him


J'ai que des soucis en ce moment = I only have problems/worries at the moment


Is this what you meant?

David

Kwiziq community member

18 August 2018

18/08/18

Indeed

Max

Kwiziq community member

18 August 2018

18/08/18

I hear that a lot too, especially among French millenials, who also frequently omit the subject pronoun. One hears "vendent que des fleurs" meaning "they sell flowers only". It seems there is a tendency to italianize or hispanize French by omitting subject pronouns where the context is clear. Oy veh!

Mary Anne

Kwiziq community member

13 August 2018

3 replies

How about allowing the women to answer properly with "restée" ?

"Restée" is the correct past participle for a female, right?

You could program to accept both male and female answers, perhaps.

Women and girls need to get in the habit of using the feminine.

Yeah, yeah, I know that genderless is coming down the pike, but for now it is incontrovesial that women use feminite forms in French.  How elegant it would be if I could write, "Je suis restée."

Mary Anne

Kwiziq community member

13 August 2018

13/08/18

I realize that in this specific sentence, one has to match the "Je suis resté" of the first part of the sentence, but in general, I would I would like to see this work. I will see what happens with other sentences.  I have been doing Kwiziiq for a year now and I must admit, I never tried to answer in he feminine when it was unspecified.  so maybe I jumped the gun.  I would delete the above suggestion if I could.  Thanks for you patience.  I happen to love Kwiziq.  It has helped me tremendously.

Chris

Kwiziq community member

14 August 2018

14/08/18

Hi Mary Anne,


Just for kicks I tried the female form once in a while and it usually worked just as well. Whenever it didn't, I reported it and it got fixed promptly.


-- Chris.

Gruff

Kwiziq language super star

14 August 2018

14/08/18

Hi Mary Anne - as I think you've realised, we do accept correct inflected forms of either gender so long as the context allows them. If the hint or context specify or imply a particular gender then only the appropriate form is accepted but in general, both forms will be accepted. Similarly, we won't mark answers incorrect for things like capitalisation and punctuation, unless the question or context explicitly requires something specific and it forms part of the test. 


Glad you're enjoying Kwiziq!

Zachary

Kwiziq community member

9 August 2018

1 reply

Couldn't I say, "Je n'ai fait que mes devoirs"? Why is "Je n'ai que fait mes devoirs" better. The 1st one feels more natural.

Chris

Kwiziq community member

9 August 2018

9/08/18

Hi Zachary,


grammatically both versions are correct but they mean slightly different things.


Je n'ai fait que mes devoirs. -- I did only my homework (and not somebody else's).
Je n'ai que fait mes devoirs. -- I only did my homework (and didn't do something else).


The "que" is placed immediately preceding the part it refers to, just like in English. The change in meaning is sometimes easily perceptible sometimes more subtle.


-- Chris (not a native speaker).

Dale

Kwiziq community member

6 August 2018

1 reply

Why can't I print out these lessons? I would like to make a 'hard copy' notebook of the Notebook. But the way the site is coded, the words come out al

Cécile

Kwiziq language super star

13 August 2018

13/08/18

Hi Dale,


Lessons are printable. If you are having problems doing so, you can contact the tech team through Help and Support , stating your specific problem and the system you use.

Rebecca

Kwiziq community member

19 June 2018

1 reply

Same problem for "I only DID my homework." As opposed to EATING my homework? Lol!

Cécile

Kwiziq language super star

21 June 2018

21/06/18

Hi Rebecca, 


As with the sweets, you could say 


"J'avais plein de choses à faire mais je n'ai fait que mes devoirs".


" I had loads of things to do but I only did my homework."

Rebecca

Kwiziq community member

19 June 2018

1 reply

The explanations for the examples are very confusing. "We only ATE sweets." I'm not sure when someone would say this...

Cécile

Kwiziq language super star

21 June 2018

21/06/18

Hi Rebecca, 


I think a bit more context would clarify:


"Je n'avais pas très faim, je n'ai mangé que des bonbons."


"I wasn't very hungry, I only ate sweets."


Hope this helps!

Michelle

Kwiziq community member

8 March 2018

2 replies

Can you use ne ... que in front of an infinitive?

Michelle

Kwiziq community member

8 March 2018

8/03/18

As in, "Je ne veux que se détendre."

Chris

Kwiziq community member

8 March 2018

8/03/18

Yes, you can. However you would say, "Je ne veux que me détendre." -- I only want to relax.


-- Chris (not a native speaker).

stephen

Kwiziq community member

23 August 2017

3 replies

whats the difference between " She only went" and " she went only"

Ron

Kwiziq community member

23 August 2017

23/08/17

Bonjour Stephen,
Let's look at a couple of example phrases:
she only went to the store . . . .and she did not go anywhere else. ---> Elle n'est qu'allée au magasin et elle n'est allée nulle part ailleurs.
she went only to the store . . .but she did not purchase anything. --> Elle n'allait qu'au magasin mais elle n'a rien acheté
Even though I have used two different forms of the verb «aller» the structure is similar and using your example sentences, a qualifier needs to be added that further explains the sense of the phrase.
J'espère que cela vous aiderait.
Bonne chance.

Rebecca

Kwiziq community member

19 June 2018

19/06/18

"She went only to the STORE," means she went to the store, but she didn't go anywhere else.


"She only WENT to the store." I guess that would mean that she went to the store, but she didn't RETURN from the store? The sentence is confusing. I really don't know when someone would say, "She only WENT to the store."

Rebecca

Kwiziq community member

19 June 2018

19/06/18

Oops, I just realized that we DO say "I only went to the store" to mean "I went to the store, but I didn't go anywhere else." It's not grammatically correct, but, at least in the U.S., we use it all the time.

Gurmeet

Kwiziq community member

11 August 2017

2 replies

If I want to say I eat only apples, is it: Je ne mange que les pommes.

Would this also mean I only eat apples?

Ron

Kwiziq community member

12 August 2017

12/08/17

Bonjour Gurmeet,
Let's have a look at this phrase:
«Je ne mange que des pommes»
Des pommes represents a a vague or unspecified plural quantity (des pommes), hence the use of «des» instead of «les». «Les» is the definite article and typically is not used to express «some».
J'espère que ma réponse vous aiderait,.
bonne chance

Aurélie

Kwiziq language super star

23 August 2017

23/08/17

Bonjour Gurmeet !

When using the restrictive ne ... que in French, note that ne will always be placed before the verb, and que after, either just after, or in front of a specific restricted element further in the sentence.

So in the case of "Je ne mange que des pommes.", the current position of "ne ... que" is the only correct option here :)

Here's a link to the related lesson:
https://kwiziq.learnfrenchwithalexa.com/revision/grammar/how-to-use-restrictive-ne-que-with-simple-tenses-to-express-only-negative-expressions

I hope that's helpful!
À bientôt !

Find your French level for FREE

Test your French to the CEFR standard

find your French level

Share the love!

Let me take a look at that...