In the French translation of Harry Potter a l'ecole des sorciers, the sentence “Make Harry get it!” (it being the post, i.e. letters) is translated as

Harry n'a qu'à y aller.

This seems to me to say something like “Harry has to go there” but that is a very loose translation and seems to ignore the n' and the à.

Is this simply an idiomatic expression that should be learned as a whole, like “Je pas” or can it be logically deciphered using the word meanings and the rules of grammar? If the latter I don't understand why the negative n' is there, or why the à is there, as the “to” with which I associate it is already contained in the y, at least in the sense of allons y.

If it is an indivisible idiomatic expression, what is its general form and meaning and in what circumstances would one use it? If it is standard grammar, how can I deconstruct it to achieve the intended meaning?

2 Answers 2


From le Trésor de la Langue Française, entry avoir III, A, 2:

N'avoir qu'à + inf.Il suffit de...

i.e., n’avoir qu’à followed by an infinitive means “to just have to”. Here, a (poor, literal) translation from French to English could be:

Harry just has to go.

  • "To just have to" ou "To only have to", is barely translated as "avoir qu'à" ou "avoir seulement à". To answer the question, this could be interesting to determine why there is the "n'" in addition. May it be only for the sentence to "sound" better ?
    – Koresh
    Commented Feb 4, 2015 at 10:30

"N'avoir qu'à [verbe]" means X can do something himself. This is often a bit judgmental. The presence of "que" implies that the action is easy to do.

"Tu n'as qu'à le manger" = "eat it yourself" (implying "instead of me") "Tu n'as qu'à y aller" = "You can go" (instead of asking me to do it) "Tu n'as qu'à le faire" = "YOU do it"

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