« Ce ne sont que de simples soldats, mais on s'entendait bien. »

I suppose that the entire sentence means something along the lines of:

"They’re just some simple soldiers, but we got along well."

However, I’m not sure how to interpret the "Ce ne sont que de" part. I suppose that "de" and "ne ... que" mean "some" and "only" respectively, but I’m at a loss as to the inversion "ce ... sont".

  • “Sont ne ce que …” would be gibberish. I don't understand where you're seeing an inversion here, what word order were you expecting? Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 16:51
  • Seconding that. Ce = pronoun for almost anything depending on context; sont = are. So ce sont = they are. Why would you expect it to be inverted? By the way you're correct about de and ne...que, although really in English you would leave out some -- it's just "They're not but simple soldiers." A particle like de is required in French where in English we would have nothing. Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 17:04
  • @Gilles how would you form the interrogative of a sentence with ce sont though? I don't think I've ever seen Sont-ce... I mean aside from using est-ce que or just phrasing it as a declarative. Commented Feb 10, 2016 at 17:07
  • 1
    @Aerovistae When you wrote that not in "they're not but simple soldiers", did you mean nought or nothing? It is not on topic but I think the not should drop altogether imho but I wonder why you presented it like that?
    – user3177
    Commented Feb 11, 2016 at 17:02
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    It's a valid phrasing. It's old fashioned but equivalent to "only" or "just." I sometimes use it when translating ne...que just because it's a more literal translation and can help people see the equivalency in meaning. Commented Feb 11, 2016 at 17:33

2 Answers 2


There is no inversion.

Meaning of Ce ne sont que de :


C'est (une pomme, ...) , Ce sont (des pommes) => It is ...

Negative: ne pas

Ce ne sont pas (des pommes) => It is not ...

Restrictive: ne que

Ce ne sont que (des pommes) => It is only / just ...


Les soldats => Des soldats => Des soldats simples => Des simples soldats => De simples soldats.

  • C'est=This is, Ce sont=These are, Ce ne sont pas=These are not, Ce ne sont que=These are only applies
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 12, 2016 at 14:14

n'être + que = to only be, ce ne sont que des simple soldats

These are just simple soldiers. It is the same as: Ils ne sont que des simples soldats

Ce sont des [whatever plural noun] or C'est [whatever singular noun] is made into a question by writing: Est-ce que ce sont des simples soldats? or Sont-ils des simples soldats. In the singular: C'est un soldat for a question becomes Est-ce un soldat? or Est-ce que c'est un soldat or Est-il (un) soldat.

To sum this up: Ce sont [these are] or C'est [this is] become questions by adding /Est-ce que c'est/ une pomme? (singular) or /Est-ce que ce sont/des pommes? (plural) or by inverting the verb être without the /ce/: Sont-elles des pommes and Est-elle une pomme? Though be careful: Est-elle une pomme can also mean: Is she an apple.....which is why: Est-ce que c'est une pomme is preferable....though: Est-il (un) soldat and Sont-ils des soldats can only mean Is he/are they soldiers....

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