5 Ways of Saying “Only” in French 

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 adverbs seulement and uniquement, and the verb phrase ne… que.
First let’s take a look at the words seul(e) and seulement: wondering why there is an e in bracket for seul? Don’t forget that French is a language that respects the gender of nouns and since seul is an adjective, it has to agree with the nouns it qualifies both in gender (masculine/feminine) and in number (singular/plural). Hope you’ve gotten that now. Cool. So let’s roll. Looking at the words seul(e) and seulement

Le mardi est le seul jour où je ne vais pas au travail. Tuesday is the only day when I don’t go to work.

Je voudrais manger seulement du riz. I would like to only eat rice.

N.B Seulement is the adverbial form of the adjective seul(e). Did you also know that seul(e) and seulement have some other meanings aside “only”? Yea they do. Let’s quickly see them.

Je suis vraiment seul en ce moment. I am realy lonely right now.

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”:

On m’a dit que tu n’es pas gentil, si seulement j’avais cru. I was told that you are not kind, if only i had believed.

Il veut venir, seulement il ne peut pas. He wants to come, however he can’t.

Now, let’s examine unique and uniquement : Although unique and uniquement are most directly translated as “unique” and “uniquely,” they can also mean “only”:

Shade est la fille unique de sa mère. Shade is the only daughter of her mother.

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. Cap. 17, Grand Lille TV: Des photos contre l’abandon des animaux french.yabla.com

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 that is, the verb comes between ne and que:

Il ne mesure que soixante-dix mètres carrés. It only measures seventy square meters. Cap. 8, Voyage dans Paris: Saint-Germain-des-Prés french.yabla.com

Je n’ai que dix mille naira. I only have 10,000 naira.

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

Il mesure seulement soixante-dix mètres carrés. It only measures seventy square meters.

J’ai seulement dix mille naira. I only have ten thousand naira.

Sometimes, que can mean “only” outside of the ne… que construction. For example, in an interview with Le Figaro (french.yabla.com) 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!


There is always room for corrections, observation and additions. On m’appelle Prof. Josh et je ne suis qu’un apprenant.


Olabayo Awodirepo



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