Neh-Kuh & Na-kah

If you look up the translation for “only”, you will find the word seulement /suhl mon/ LISTEN.

And this word works pretty fine when one wants to emphasize the idea of “only”.

Examples >>>

Il manque deux sous seulement.
Only two pennies are missing.

J’ai dit seulement un morceau!
I said only one piece!

Il voulait seulement vous aider.
He only wanted to help you. 

However, in other sentences, and often with “avoir” and “être”, seulement sounds a bit… off.

C'Est facile

Translation >>>
It’s easy! You but need study it a bit…

So that is why French uses an equally – if not more – popular way of translating “only”: wrapping the verb with the words “ne” and “que”. It makes for a much lighter sentence:

C'Est facile2

Translation >>>
It’s easy! All you need is to study it a little.

So let’s study and practice a neat way to express “only” without using “seulement”.

neh-kuh (n’ai que or n’est que)

na-kah (n’a qu’à or n’as qu’à).

These are segments often encountered in French sentences expressing “only”. Click on tabs above for a full explanation for each of them.


How to write it >>>
n’ai que: je n’ai que… 
Stands for... >>>
(I) only have…
When to use it >>>
When you want to express that you have only X, or you have X only.
How to use it >>>
  • With je;
  • Wrapping the verb with ne and que;
  • The sentence remains positive.

Je n’ai que deux minutes.
I only have two minutes. / I have two minutes only.


je n'ai que deux minutes

Je n’ai que mon coeur à t’offrir.
All I have to give you is my heart.



À midi, je n’ai qu’un petit pain.*
All I have for lunch is a bread roll./ At lunch I have no more than one bread roll.

je n'ai qu'un petit pain

*Should you want to stress that you have only one bread roll when you could have many, then say:

À midi, je ne prends qu’un seul petit pain.
At lunch I have no more than one bread roll.

Hear it and see it in action:


How to write it >>>
n’est que/tu n’es que
Stands for... >>>
(It/she/he/) only is…/ (You) only are…
When to use it >>>
When you want to express that something, or someone is only X, and nothing more.
How to use it >>>
  • With  either tu or il, elle, on or ce;
  • Wrapping the verb with ne and que;
  • Do no use with an adjective, only with a noun or a pronoun;
  • The sentence remains positive.


C’est moi. => Ce n’est que moi.
It’s me.             It’s only me.


Ce n’est que le vent.
It’s only the wind.


ce n'est que le vent

Il n’est que midi.
It’s only noon (It’s still early).


Vous êtes dix, on n’est que trois.
There are ten of you, we’re only three.


Tu n’es qu’un enfant.
You are but a child.


Elle n’est qu’une pauvresse.
She’s but a poor person.


elle n'est qu'une pauvresse


How to write it >>>
(tu) n’as qu’à/ (il, elle, on) n’a qu’à  
Stands for... >>>
All you or he, she or it has to do is…X
When to use it >>>
When you want to express that all someone has to do is X, that one only needs to do X in a given situation.
How to use it >>>
  • With tuil, elle, on;
  • Wrapping the verb “a” or “as” with n’ and qu’ à + an infinitive: tu n’as qu’à, il n’a qu’à;
  • The sentence remains positive.


Tu n’as qu’à remplir ce formulaire.
All you need to do is fill this form.


Il n’a qu’à demander…
All he needs to do is ask.


On n’a qu’à essayer, on verra bien.
We just have to try, we’ll see.


Go Test Yourself!

Transform the following sentences so they convey the idea of “only”:

example: J’ai un chat. => Je n’ai qu’un chat.

J’ai une place.

On est des étudiants.

Il est dix heures.

C’est le vent.

J’ai de gros billets.

Tu marche cinq minutes.

Elle appuie sur le bouton.

Tu le surveilles.

Tu le fais cuire trente minutes.


On attend.

On est deux.

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