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Five Ways of Saying "Only"

"Only" might seem like a pretty lonely word, but there are actually several different ways of saying it in French: the adjectives seul(e) and unique, the adverb seulement and uniquement, and the verb phrase ne... que.

First let’s take a look at the words seul(e) and seulement:

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Parce que le mardi, c'est le seul jour où je ne travaille pas.

Because Tuesday is the only day when I don't work.

Caption 10, Fred et Miami Catamarans - Fred et sa vie à Miami

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Aussi je vais dire seulement trois choses.

Also I am only going to say three things.

Caption 10, Le Journal - Joëlle Aubron libérée

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Seulement is the adverbial form of the adjective seul(e), which has another similar (and sadder!) meaning as well:

 

Alors je me retrouve un petit peu seul en ce moment.

So I find myself a little alone right now.

Caption 5, Hugo Bonneville - Gagner sa vie

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Some other ways of saying "alone" or "lonely" are solitaire and isolé(e).

And seulement has some additional meanings of its own. It can be used to express a regret ("if only...") and to mean "however":

Si seulement je l'avais su avant. 

If only I had known before.

Il veut venir, seulement il ne peut pas.

He wants to come, however he can't. 

Although unique and uniquement are most directly translated as "unique" and "uniquely," they can also mean "only":

 

Je suis un enfant unique.

I am an only child. 

 

Ce que l'on demande, c'est d'avoir uniquement la photo de l'animal.

What we're asking is to have only the photo of the animal.

Caption 17, Grand Lille TV - Des photos contre l'abandon des animaux

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Now let’s look at a bit more complicated way of saying "only": the verb phrase ne... que. As you might have guessed, ne... que is a negative construction, as in ne... pas (not), ne... personne (no one), and ne... rien (nothing). In these constructions, the two components go on either side of the verb:

 

Il ne mesure que soixante-dix mètres carrés,

It only measures seventy square meters,

Caption 8, Voyage dans Paris - Saint-Germain-des-Prés

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Moi je ne parlais que français.

Me, I spoke only French.

Caption 10, Annie Chartrand - Grandir bilingue

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Most of the time, ne... que can be replaced with seulement:

Il mesure seulement soixante-dix mètres carrés.

It only measures seventy square meters.

Moi, je parlais seulement français.

Me, I spoke only French. 

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Sometimes, que can mean "only" outside of the ne... que construction. For example, in an interview with Le Figaro, A-lister Ashton Kutcher laments being typecast as a jokester, declaring: "Je ne suis pas qu’un clown!" (I’m not only a clown!)

The ne in this sentence goes with pas (not), while the que stands on its own to mean "only." Ashton (or his translator) could just as well have said, Je ne suis pas seulement un clown! 

Maybe the former "Punk’d" star can shed his clownish reputation by undertaking some serious French studies at Yabla French! Since he’s known to be an avid tweeter, he might want to start by following us on Twitter @Yabla. And you should follow us too!  

Vocabulary

Making Adverbs from Adjectives

Adverbs are words that describe how something is done. They can modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. In a previous lesson, we saw what happens when adverbs and adjectives get cozy with each other in the same sentence. Now we'll explore what happens when they get even cozier—when an adverb is formed from an adjective.

In English, adverbs often end in -ly: “comfortably,” “unfortunately,” “obviously,” etc. Likewise, many French adverbs end in -ment: confortablement (comfortably), malheureusement (unfortunately), évidemment (obviously).

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Here’s an example of a French adverb in action, describing one of fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld’s collections: 

 

Une petite merveille de cohérence, de charme et de légèreté où la cliente perd facilement vingt ans.

A little treasure of coherency, charm, and lightness in which the wearer easily loses twenty years.

Captions 2-3, Le Journal - Défilé de mode

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So what's the one thing that English -ly adverbs and French -ment adverbs have in common? You guessed it—they all come from adjectives! Just take away the -ly and the -ment to get “unfortunate” (malheureuse), “easy” (facile), and “obvious” (évident).

However, this formula is a bit more complicated in French than in English. Facilement and confortablement can be neatly broken down into their separate components: the adjectives facile and confortable plus the ending -ment. But why do we have malheureusement and not "malheureuxment"? (Malheureux is the masculine form of malheureuse.) And why évidemment instead of "évidentment"? 

The answer: French has a small set of rules for determining how to turn an adjective into an adverb. Once you learn them, you'll be able to spot the adverbs in any sentence effortlessly. 

First take the masculine form of the adjective:

1. If the adjective ends in a vowel, simply add -ment

We just saw some examples of this with facile + ment = facilement and confortable + ment = confortablement. Other common examples include:

vrai            → vraiment (true → truly)

probable  → probablement (probable → probably)

spontanéspontanément (spontaneous → spontaneously)

absolu      → absolument (absolute → absolutely)

2. If the adjective ends in a consonant, add -ment to the feminine form of the adjective. 

This is the case of malheureux/malheureusement. You’ll also see this rule at work in words such as:

religieuxreligieusement (religious → religiously) 

direct     → directement (direct → directly)

réel        → réellement (real → really) 

léger      → légèrement (light → lightly)

massif    → massivement (massive → massively)

3. If the adjective ends in -ant or -ent, replace the ending with -amment or -emment, respectively.

So even though évident ends in a consonant, its adverbial form is not "évidentement," but évidemment. Likewise, you have:

constant   → constamment (constant → constantly)

récent       → récemment (recent → recently)

apparent  → apparemment (apparent → apparently) 

brillant      → brillamment (brilliant → brilliantly)

A special note: the ending -emment has the same pronunciation as -amment. An easy way to remember this is to think of the word femme (woman), which is pronounced /fam/, not /fem/.

You can hear an example of this pronunciation in these two videos:

 

Ben la ville est petite et en même temps suffisamment grande pour qu'y ait à peu près tout.

Well the town is small and at the same time it's big enough to have just about everything.

Captions 19-20, Strasbourg - Les passants

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Il était absolument impossible, évidemment, d'exprimer le moindre regret...

It was absolutely impossible, obviously, to express the slightest regret...

Captions 33-34, Le Journal - Joëlle Aubron libérée

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Although there are a few exceptions here and there, these are the basic rules for creating adverbs from adjectives in French. You can find a thorough list of these exceptions in this about.com article on the subject: https://www.thoughtco.com/french-adverbs-of-manner-4084830

The one simple guideline underlying all three of these rules (which has no exceptions!) is that the adverbial ending -ment (or -mment) is always preceded by a vowel. So if you keep at least that in mind when constructing your adverbs, you should succeed brillamment!

Grammar

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