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Lesson Transcript

Hi everybody! Candice here. Welcome to Ask a Teacher, where I'll answer your most common French questions.
The question for this lesson is When should I use ne...que and when should I use seulement to mean “only”?
In English we only have one word for “only”. But in French, we have two.
They mean the same thing, but they are used in different ways. In general, I would say that ne...que is more commonly used. But, both are fine, if you use them correctly. Let’s take a look...
Seulement is easier for English speakers because it’s very similar to the English word “only.” So we can use it before a number – Il y a combien d’assiettes? Seulement deux. meaning “There are how many plates? Only two.” Or we can use it in a sentence. Je fais seulement du sport pour m’amuser. meaning “I do only sports for fun.”
But where you put seulement changes the meaning of the sentence. This sentence means the only activity you do when you want to have fun is sports. But what if you want to say the only reason you play sports is to have fun? Then you say Je fais du sport seulement pour m’amuser. meaning “I do sports only for fun.” Je fais seulement du sport pour m’amuser. meaning “I do only sports for fun”. It’s a subtle difference, but it’s important.
Now, ne...que can be used almost interchangeably in these sentences. But ne...que is not an adverb, but a construction. You put ne before the verb and que before the “only thing.” So let’s use the same sentence, “I do only sports for fun” which is Je ne fais que du sport pour m’amuser. Since you want to say that only sports are done for fun, que comes right before du sport.
Now let’s say, “I do sports only for fun.” This is Je ne fais du sport que pour m’amuser. Que comes before pour m’amuser because that’s the “only thing.” In spoken French, people often drop ne in negative constructions and ne que is no different. So you might hear someone say, il reste que trois jours. “There are only three days left.” Or maybe even, Il y a combien d’assiettes? Que deux. This means “There are how many plates? Only two.”
Pretty neat, right?
If you have any more questions, please leave a comment below!
A bientôt, see you soon!