Restrictive ne … que = only (simple tenses)

Look at these cases:

Nous n'avons qu'une heure
We only have one hour

Je n'ai que des pièces
I only have coins

Je n'aime que les pommes.
I like only apples.

Tu ne lis que le soir.
You read only in the evening.

Notice that to express restriction (only), we use the restrictive structure ne... que.

Though it looks similar to the ne ... pas (not) structure, there are some differences in the way to use it.

Note that ne is always placed in front of the verb.


However, as in English where you can move only in front of the element it's restricting, in French you will place que accordingly: 

Il ne mange que des pâtes le samedi.
He eats only pasta on Saturdays.

Il ne mange des pâtes que le samedi.
He eats pasta only on Saturdays.

The position of the word que can then subtly change the meaning of the sentence (just as the position of only can in English).

ATTENTION:
 
You CANNOT place que in front of the verb, so you CANNOT express He only eats pasta on Saturdays. 
This statement being ambiguous in English anyway, in French you would have to choose to insist on pasta or Saturdays.

 

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

J'aime seulement les pommes.
I only like apples.
I like only apples.

Tu lis seulement le soir.
You only read at night.
You read only at night.

Il mange seulement des pâtes le samedi.
He only eats pasta on Saturdays.

 

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

 

Learn more about these related French grammar topics

Examples and resources

Il mange des pâtes seulement le samedi.
He eats pasta only on Saturdays.


Ne parle pas de ton ex!
A moins bien sûr, de n'en dire que du mal...et encore!

Don't talk about your ex!
Unless of course, you only say bad things...and still!


Nous n'avons qu'une heure
We only have one hour


Tu lis seulement le soir.
You only read at night.
You read only at night.


Tu ne lis que le soir.
You read only in the evening.


J'aime seulement les pommes.
I only like apples.
I like only apples.


Je n'aime que les pommes.
I like only apples.


Il ne mange des pâtes que le samedi.
He eats pasta only on Saturdays.


Je n'ai que des pièces
I only have coins


Il mange seulement des pâtes le samedi.
He only eats pasta on Saturdays.


Il ne mange que des pâtes le samedi.
He eats only pasta on Saturdays.


Il n'y a qu'une chambre libre dans l'hôtel
There is only one room free in hotel


Q&A Forum 8 questions, 22 answers

if only is "ne...que", what's not only?

e.g.) not only is it sweet, it's also sour!

Asked 2 months ago
CécileKwiziq language super starCorrect answer

Hi Gwen,

 'Ne...que'  goes around a verb ...

In your example you would say -

'Non seulement ......mais c'est également......'

Hope this helps!

if only is "ne...que", what's not only?

e.g.) not only is it sweet, it's also sour!

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Il n’a que deux frères - He only has two brothers. Is this correct? or it should be - He has only two brothers?

Asked 10 months ago

Both versions of the English translation are possible, because the difference between them is, at most, ephemeral. ;)

In French you could only reasonably say, "Il n'a que deux frères." Because "il ne qu'a deux frères." sounds impossible to my ears. 

Thanks Chris for your response.

He only has two brothers can also mean - He and only he has two brothers out of a group of people. Sounds like an overkill but since this translation belongs to a quiz, I was wondering that after all the learning on where to put 'only', why would the answer be in a different way.

You'd teally need tone of voice, too, to help you nail down the meaning exactly. 

Il n’a que deux frères - He only has two brothers. Is this correct? or it should be - He has only two brothers?

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Ne que vs seulement

Je trouve que l’utilisation de ‘ne serait que pour les garder en vie’ is unnecessarily complicated given the context of the sentence.  My preference would be ‘pour seulement les garder en vie’.  But I like your emphasis on the use and position of seulement and que.  The vast majority of English speakers position the word ‘only’ incorrectly.  It drives me crazy!
Asked 1 year ago
CécileKwiziq language super starCorrect answer

Hi Marnie,

I agree that the expression 'ne serait-ce que' is a bit wordy but it is the correct one to use.

Note the 'ce' which is missing in your example.

'ne ...que' and 'seulement' both mean only.

'ne serait-ce que 'means 'even if only  so is slightly different.

Take a look at the following examples-

Il faut manger régulièrement, ne serait-ce que pour conserver ses forces = You have to eat regularly even if only to maintain your strength

Il faut promener son chien tous les jours, ne serait-ce que dix minutes You have to walk your dog every day even if only for ten minutes.

Hope this helps!

Ne que vs seulement

Je trouve que l’utilisation de ‘ne serait que pour les garder en vie’ is unnecessarily complicated given the context of the sentence.  My preference would be ‘pour seulement les garder en vie’.  But I like your emphasis on the use and position of seulement and que.  The vast majority of English speakers position the word ‘only’ incorrectly.  It drives me crazy!

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NevB2

"I only have a book" vs "I only have one book"

Hi, I'm wondering about the difference between "I only have a book" and "I only have one book", which mean distinct things. It seemed to me that "Je n'ai qu'un livre" would be the former when I encountered it first. Is there anything that would differentiate the two English sentences? (No biggie, just wondering.)
Asked 1 year ago
AurélieKwiziq language super starCorrect answer

Bonjour Nev !

That's an interesting question :)

Je n'ai qu'un livre would be the neutral equivalent to I only have a/one book when there's no emphasis on "one".

However, if you wanted to insist on the fact that you have "only one", in French you would use the adjective seul, as such:

Je n'ai qu'un seul livre.  (Literally: I only have one book alone.
Bonne journée !
JimC1
Je n'en ai que un. I suggest that this would explain that "you only have one book" provided the context of what was being discussed mentioned books. I agree that Je n'ai qu'un livre, translates to "I only have a book" Hope this helps. Alan (Jim)
NevB2
Cheers. :)
the difference in English is ´I have only one book’ (not ten books) AND ´ I only have one book’ (all I own is one book...my only belonging...)

"I only have a book" vs "I only have one book"

Hi, I'm wondering about the difference between "I only have a book" and "I only have one book", which mean distinct things. It seemed to me that "Je n'ai qu'un livre" would be the former when I encountered it first. Is there anything that would differentiate the two English sentences? (No biggie, just wondering.)

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Regarding the 3 examples using "seulement"

Why isn't the translation for the "il mange seulement des pates le samedi, translated "He eats only" as in the first 2 examples since seulement is an adverb which is usually translated "He only eats:...
Asked 2 years ago
RonC1
Note: You can also use seulement which means only in French, though it is not as elegant. J'aime seulement les pommes. I only like apples.I like only apples. Tu lis seulement le soir. You only read at night.You read only at night. Il mange seulement des pâtes le samedi. He eats only pasta on Saturdays. Try looking at this example rephrased: Le samedi il mange seulement des pâtes. this then becomes a statement of his habit on Saturday which is to eat pasta. Hope this helps.
So if I translate "Il mange seulement des pates le samedi" as "He only eats pasta on Saturdays" we will both be happy! :) If you wanted to, you could change the example to translate: "He only eats pasta on Saturdays."
AurélieKwiziq language super star
Bonjour Judy ! This is actually an interesting difference between French and English: indeed, in English you would use intonation to stress which element of the sentence is being restricted by "only", whereas in French we move "seulement" or "que" directly in front of the restricted element. Here we tried to show this nuance by moving "only" accordingly: "Il mange seulement des pâtes le samedi." (He only eats PASTA on Saturdays.) "Il mange des pâtes seulement le samedi." (He only eats pasta ON SATURDAYS.) I hope that helps! À bientôt !
RonC1
Merci, Aurélie. C'est très clair.
Merci for all your help. I didn't make myself clear on the question. I was asking about the english translation of the 3rd "seulement" example. Aurelie has now made it clear in the example she gives above-- "Il mange seulement des pâtes le samedi." (He only eats PASTA on Saturdays.) "He only eats" is what I would expect after reading the first two english translations. Will you be changing it?
AurélieKwiziq language super star
Bonjour Judy ! I've now changed the English in the 3rd example :) Bonne journée !

why using seulement is not elegant? I don't understand... How do you tell which one is and which one isn't?

Regarding the 3 examples using "seulement"

Why isn't the translation for the "il mange seulement des pates le samedi, translated "He eats only" as in the first 2 examples since seulement is an adverb which is usually translated "He only eats:...

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Regarding the 3 examples using "seulement" in this exercise:

Asked 2 years ago
RonC1
Il n'y a pas de question.

Regarding the 3 examples using "seulement" in this exercise:

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Elles (les chauve-souris) ne volent que la nuit

I look for a proposition like à or dans la nuit. Have you any general tips on why and where french does not need a preposition in cases like this?
Asked 2 years ago
AurélieKwiziq language super star
Bonjour Jennifer ! With moments of the day, you will usually use only the definite article "l'/le/la" to express a general statement: "Le soir, je me couche tard." (In the evening, I go to bed late.) "L'après-midi, il fait la sieste." (In the afternoon, he has a nap.) "La nuit, nous dormons." (At night, we sleep.) See also our lesson on days of the week: Using le with days of the week + weekend I hope that's helpful! À bientôt !
Merci Aurélie, Prepositions one of my bêtes noires. I read your lessons but difficult to keep them in mind. Thank you again.
AurélieKwiziq language super star
Courage Jennifer ! "C'est en forgeant que l'on devient forgeron !" (Literally: It's by forging that you become a blacksmith.) -> Practice makes perfect. :)

Elles (les chauve-souris) ne volent que la nuit

I look for a proposition like à or dans la nuit. Have you any general tips on why and where french does not need a preposition in cases like this?

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Des pommes ?

Hi there, another question from me about articles. In the example above, "J'aime seulement les pommes", does this not refer to "the apples" versus apples in general. I thought one would use "des pommes" in this case. Merci, Kathy
Asked 2 years ago
LauraKwiziq language super star
Bonjour Kathy, Good question! That's the tricky thing about the French definite article - it is both specific (I like the apples you bought yesterday) and general (I like apples). Des pommes would refer to only some apples, like Granny Smiths but not Macintosh. Take a look at these lessons: Using le, la, l' to say "the" (definite articles) Using le, la, l' to say "the" (definite articles)1
Merci beaucoup, Laura !

Des pommes ?

Hi there, another question from me about articles. In the example above, "J'aime seulement les pommes", does this not refer to "the apples" versus apples in general. I thought one would use "des pommes" in this case. Merci, Kathy

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