Let me go through a few different examples and their meaning; if there is one I missed, just ask and I'll add it:
- Les hommes seuls boivent, the original sentence. Out of context, it means Men who are alone drink. Les hommes seuls may mean single men, though les hommes célibataires would be more explicit. I'm not sure I like lonely as a translation for seul, here, as lonely is an emotion, while seul is not. Lonely is best translated as se sentir seul, to feel alone, in fact — the closest adjective we have is esseulé, but it can also mean casted out, forsaken. Finally, lonely has a sad connotation to me, hence I would not use solitaire to translate it, out of ambiguity, but it could fit. Now you may interpret seuls as only, which brings us to the second sentence.
- Seuls les hommes boivent, Only men drink. If you do interpret seuls as only in the original sentence, then this sentence is to be preferred. It means unambiguously that only men drink.
- Seulement les hommes boivent, Only men drink. With the adverbial form, it is even clearer.
- Les hommes boivent seulement, Men only drink. This is valid, but one would rather say Les hommes ne font que boire, Men do nothing but drink.
- Seuls, les hommes boivent, Alone, men drink. Now watch out for that vicious comma. Seul, only, has to be followed by some noun; seul, alone, has not. Hence if seul is, well, alone, then it is to be translated alone.
- Les hommes boivent seuls, Men drink alone. No ambiguity, everything is clear.
- Les hommes boivent, seuls, Men drink, alone. Isolated seul? Then it is alone.
A side note on the main problem: yes Les hommes seuls boivent can mean only men drink. But you'd know it not with the context but with the way it is said; there would be a strong emphasis on seuls. Again, Seuls les hommes boivent is to be preferred, but for style, one may use Les hommes SEULS boivent.
Sur ce, ça m'a donné soif, On that note, this made me thirsty. HTH!
Good point; I added that to my original reply. When the gender is established, les célibataires works best. Et pour ce qui est des hommes… Les célibataires boivent seuls, et ceux en couple arrêtent de boire, As for men… Those who are single drink alone, and those in a relationship stop drinking.
In another question, it said to translate 'they read alone'. I put 'ils lisent seuls'. It was marked correct. Therefore, when this came, placing the 'seuls' before the verb 'boivent' I took that to mean that ONLY the men drank. Why did the 'seuls' come before the verb in this instance. Help, please.
Yeah. Based on cadilhac's explanation above, it would even seem like "Lone" or "Single" should replace "Lonely" in the primary translation at the top of the page since seul refers to being physically alone as opposed to feeling emotionally bothered by ones being alone.
Moreover, as ThanKwee mentioned above, when seul comes after homme instead of before the noun, it's an expression that specifically means "single man" (as in relationship status). This reinforces the idea that the men in "les hommes seuls boivent" are single men, or lone men who aren't part of a couple. They are not necessarily emotionally lonely men.
If it weren't for the drinking, I don't even see why "lonely men." would be a correct translation at all of "les hommes seuls." Even in the context of the sentence, I could just as easily interpret it as an expression about rowdy single men drinking because they don't have a partner to keep them in line, as opposed to drinking because they are lonely.
Omg,Whattttttt??????? "Seul" comes after the noun???!! I had an example like this before, the "seul" wroted as one of the "bags" adjectives in french,exactly right before the noun,but here it's after the noun.there,i read the comment,but no one said to report it to duo,so every one accepted it. In that example it meant "only" .does the meaning of the adjective effect the situation they lay in?!! So if not,why did it come after the noun,here ,but,there,came before the noun????
Yes, ImanRashid1, the placement of seuls before/after the noun does change its meaning.
It confused me too, at first, when I noticed that in a different question "seul" was used to mean "only" and came before the noun, but it made more sense after reading the discussions. The explanation in that question's discussion was that "only" was a reference to number and thus in the N category of BANGS. When not used in this way, seul can go in different places. When I looked up seul in an online dictionary, it said that when seul comes AFTER homme instead of before, it's an expression that means "single man" (as in relationship status), and ThanKwee's comment above confirms this. (Further be aware that Duolingo has some questions where seul comes after a verb. In these cases it's an adverb that means "[doing action] alone", although as ThanKwee pointed out, seul used like this is a grammatical exception and needs to match the noun like an adjective instead of behaving like a normal adverb.)
(Adjective before noun): les seuls hommes = the only men
(Adjective after noun): les hommes seuls = the single men*
(Adverb after verb): les hommes boivent seuls = the men drink alone
*Yes, I know that Duolingo translates it as "lonely men" but I think it's more of a figurative interpretation based on the fact that they're single and also drinking.
Also, note that this doesn't necessarily follow the usual rule of thumb for adjectives that can come both before and after the noun. Duolingo's notes in the adjectives section say that usually when an adjective can come both before and after the noun, before indicates a figurative meaning while after indicates a literal meaning.
Ok im starting to understand. I said "the men drink alone", which was wrong BECAUSE "seuls" is the adjective for "homme" NOT for "boivent". So, the men are being described as lonely/alone and not their drinking habits. The placement of the adjective is crucial as it only applies to the word imediately before it
Duolingo translates the sentence literally, so when the adjective follows "men" (as it does in this case) it is describing the men as being alone/lonely. If the adjective was at the end of the sentence (after "drink") your answer would have been correct. So, "the alone men drink" insted of "the men drink alone". Hope that helps :)