Small french lesson: "Ne...que"
Hello Duolinguists, So I've been translating some french texts to english and noticed an error of translation virtually every translator who encountered this kind of subtle phrasing made. The phrasing is "Ne...que" and I figured explaining it might interest some of you.
"Ne...que" is used to express the fact that one only does one thing. For example:
"Je ne peux que marcher sans souliers."
means: "I can only walk without shoes".One could also say, "Je ne peux marcher que sans soulier" (notice how the "que" changed its position), which now means "I can walk only without shoes". We can see how the "que" actually takes the place of "only" here, which is its meaning in this phrasing, and that its position slightly changes the meaning.
The confusing part for readers is that "Je ne peux marcher sans soulier" (without "que") is a fancy way of saying "I can't walk without shoes", which has the opposite meaning just by removing "que". Note that the fancy way I'm talking about is using "Je ne peux" instead of "Je ne peux pas". "Pouvoir" is the only verb I can think of that you can use this way, so don't go around saying "Je ne comprends le français". One actual sentence I've seen in the immersion is "On ne peut qu'aimer autre chose", which people translated as "We can't love anything else" when it actually means the opposite "We can only love something else", and now you know it. Note that I used the verb "pouvoir" throughout my explanations, but this phrasing works with virtually every verb ("Je n'aime que, je ne mange que, je ne danse que....)"
Finally, I will add that this phrasing is quite formal and much more present in the written language, as one might guess. It is quite unlikely to hear it in everyday life and you'd be better off to say "Je peux seulement" to convey this meaning.
I hope this was clear enough and that you enjoyed the lesson. If you have any questions, please ask and I'll answer:)
EDIT: A video linked in a comment made me realize something. I am from Québec so I do not speak french the same exact way french people do (although we have the same written french). French people (i.e. from France) speak a lot more like they write, so they WILL use that phrasing using que, while in Québec it sounds fancy. And they won't use "seulement". We don't even really use seulement here in Québec I just figured even "que" was too fancy for french people, but apparently not, so my bad. For information, here in Québec we use "juste". So we would say for exemple "Je mange juste des pommes", to say "I only eat apples". There you go:)
Thank you! Although, about the part where you said that only saying ne is fancy, but I've seen a lot of times where they actually leave ne and only say pas, is this 'ne-only-thing' just for pouvoir or what? If anyone could clarify this it would be highly appreciated.
Again, thanks for the great lesson.
Saying "Je peux pas, Je mange pas, je crois pas" is indeed the way to go in informal speech. If you wanna sound even more fluent: "J'peux pas, J'mange pas, J'crois pas..." And that's a total different thing than "Je ne peux" or "Je ne puis", the latter being some old form of the verb "pouvoir". These actually sound like a romantic knight speaking:P There's an article on this on the french wikipedia http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/N%C3%A9gation_en_fran%C3%A7ais#Emploi_de_.C2.AB_ne_.C2.BB_seul
You'll see that there are examples using other verbs, but that the syntax for these is particular (with Si, for example). I wouldn't have thought of these and they sound like old fancy french to me, something you'd see in old literature with noble people speaking or something.
I'd recommend to keep that somewhere in your brain, were you to encounter that in a book, but to forget about it altogether when you speak. I hope it helped clarify things:)
I just saw another one today in my book «Le petit nicholas à des ennuis»
«il n'y a que cinq tomates dans un kilo?» - "There are only 5 tomatoes in one kilo?"
Oh, oh, another from a little movie I'm watching.
«Des dents, des dents ! Mais nous n'en avons que neuf mon précieux.»
Thanks again. This time drawing attention to the regional difference. As lynxlynxlynx has mentioned ne....que is like using English but in a convoluted way. Understandable however it makes you stop and look (or think about what was just said to the detriment of hearing what comes after)
Juste seems more conducive to understanding.