Confusing French!

Might be worth trying if they won’t keep it a bit longer.

@billybutcher this is one of the little traps in French. Actually it’s 2 traps combined.

ne…que means ‘only’
The que in ne…que is where the pas of ne…pas would be. It replaces the pas.
When it’s ne…que it means ‘only’
When it’s ne…pas it means ‘not’
When it’s ne…pas que it means ‘not only’ as in ‘not just’.
When you see que, look backwards and you’ll find what it’s restricting to ‘only’.

So Je ne suis pas que forte ‘I’m not only strong’
Je ne suis pas forte ’ I’m not strong’
Je ne suis que forte ‘I’m only strong’

Plus is the second trap.
Ne…plus ‘not any more’ ‘no longer’ ‘not any more’
Ne… plus que… ‘not any more, only…’

Il ne vous reste plus que 2 jours pour le récupérer. You only have 2 more days to collect it.
Shortened to
Plus que 2 jours pour le récupérer …only 2 days left.
(and I’ve got a nasty feeling I’ve even seen Plus 2 jours in this context when out and about)

I think plus de would be ‘more than’ and not plus que (Though I think it’s more French to go other ways round to say ‘more than’ a different way instead, such as longer phrases with nouns).

Jamais works the same way.
ne…jamais never
Plus jamais never again.

Plus disponible far more likely to mean not available any more (eg stock in a shop), than 'more approachable (eg a person as in Elle est plus disponible). Depends on context.

Yup the ne… often being dropped in writing now too, used to be dropped verbally but now seems to have crept into writing too…makes it much harder. Ne used to be a good signpost that would warn you to look a few words later for pas, que, jamais, aucun etc. ie a negation. Que is the sneakiest of all of them though as it flips the meaning.


Thanks Karen - I know most of my French negatives, in theory at least, though I’m not super confident.

I guess what floored me was that I assumed an email from Colissimo would not use what still seems to me to be “colloquial/informal” French.

Maybe it is less colloquial than I thought.

Yeah it seems to have crept into official communication now too. Not helpful :slight_smile:

I’ve not come across this before so just had to Google it… Every day’s a schoolday :slightly_smiling_face:

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I remember being very confused the first time I lived here how “une personne” and “personne” can mean quite so different things.

I still struggle with “au dessus” and “au dessous” (and I pronounce both the same no matter how hard I try not to)

Oh, and “passer un examen”… I get it now that it’s to take an exam, but I’m limited in the number of ways I can say someone passed their exam.

Not physically possible unless you’re eg commenting on a video of yourself, because là-bas is ‘over there’ so remote from you.

I don’t pronounce à jeun and Agen the same, the former is aʒœ̃ and the latter aʒɛ̃.


You would translate it as (only) ‘a few more’ not as ‘not many’ though. If you think of it that way it is easier perhaps.

Something which may help: when it is negative we don’t pronounce the s ,(unless there’s a vowel next but we say z then) and when it is positive we usually do pronounce that s sibilantly.
cf Il n’en veut plus (neg, no s) and il en veut plus (positive, s).


It’s just the next step (!) in the long evolution of French negatives from a simple not, through the more emphatic not one step, to just step. It’s a well recognised process in all languages (slowed down, but not stopped, by technologies like writing and printing, and of course by schools, dictionaries, etc).

You’re right of course Vero, but in those days we were fairly approximate and tended to let the words of the vet (or whoever was speaking) wash over us in the hope of getting the gist. I’d like to think our listening skills have improved since then!

Now that has made my day, thank you Vero! Just tried a few sentences and I do this, but never really realised I do. I guess because I’ve learnt most of my french from listening to people, radio, cinema etc etc I’ve absorbed stuff. (The reverse side of this coin is that my french spelling is awful).


My problem is that I have passed through that stage, but now seem to have returned to it, especially in phone calls. Panic sets in quickly as I feel myself losing the thread and I assumed it was a hearing problem, but maybe an ageing brain problem. Yesterday I passed my phone to the aide de toilette because of just this problem, she had it on speaker so I could hear the comments, and understood every word with ease. :roll_eyes: The same thing happened with the visiting health coordinator a couple of weeks ago, and she couldn’t translate because she doesn’t speak English, but I understood perfectly second hand.

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Mmm. I know what you mean David. I have been feeling that maybe I am not understanding because of a lack of concentration and/or hearing. But also the little grey cells are not as nimble as they used to be.

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Stress, that is what is doing it, being put on the spot and the responsibility of understanding. Remove those parameters and it is fine : same principle as answering all the quiz questions correctly at home in 2 seconds when you would struggle on radio or television or with any sort of audience.


Yes, you are right Vero, although even watching a tv quiz I am slow sometimes bringing the answers to the fore.

Recognisable words help though, I have just had a call from the coordinatrice of the APA and CIAS and I panicked at first, but she has a very (to my ears) individual and recognisable forename, Bergamote, and as soon as she mentioned it I was ok. However, as she knows of my difficulty she may have slowed down a bit.

She was just asking how things went with the aide yesterday and I was able to tell her very well and we even had a little laugh when I mentioned that social service work in France must pay very well as she turned up in a silver Mercedes sports coupe. :astonished:

She was also pleased that her info had been right about the aide being an English speaker and shared another laugh when I said the language problem was a little bit easier. I was joking of course, Gill’s Scottish accent was not very strong.

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Well, that was easier than I expected!

Finally phoned this morning - it was the first opportunity that I have had to do so as the post office is not open in the afternoons (also tracking down a phone number that I could use from the UK was harder than anticipated).

I had barely got halfway through my wonky French explanation when the nice lady on the other end interrupted and said “ah, it is about your box” and she was happy to hold on to it until the 21st

It seems that they had  seen my message sent via the mairie website (the mairie and post office share a building) although hadn’t replied.


How about “Il y a plus de cinq Euros dans ma poche”?

Do you need lots of ways? - réussir à is the appropriate verb, I think.

As in “mon fils a réussi à son bac”


I don’t always know the correct words, but still manage to make myself understood most of the time.

I’d say… “mon fils a gagné … il a gagné son examen” … and laugh apologetically as I asked… "comment je dois le dire? …
Of course, I also speak with my hands, which does help… :face_with_hand_over_mouth:


No need to pronounce the s as it is obviously positive. Many people do still pronounce it though, but not me because I am an old pedant.