I'm trying to work out how you would emphasise different parts of a phrase with "ne ... que".

If I want to say "she only went there after a week", suggesting that "a week" was a long time to take to go there, I would tentatively say

Elle n'y est allée qu'une semaine après son arrivée en France

However, I don't know how to formulate the sentence if I want to emphasise the fact that it only took her a week to go to a place after she arrived in France, and that this was a short amount of time to take. In English, I would say "she went there after only a week".

How could I formulate that phrase with a clear emphasis but still using "ne ... que"? I have a suspicion that the French phrase I've given above might mean both depending on the context, but I'm really not sure.


First, you do have the right suspicion :

Elle n'y est allée qu'une semaine après son arrivée en France.

can have both meanings :

She only went there after a week.

She went there after only a week.

It's because ne...que pattern is, in this case, only mark of remarkable duration. The meaning will depend on the context, like in these two examples:

  • Remarkably long time :

    Il n'est venu me voir que 2 ans après son arrivée au village

  • Remarkably short time :

    Il n'a passé son permis qu'un jour après son frère.

So, to ensure that your sentence is well understood when context is not obvious, I think you will have to add something to your sentence to make it unambiguous.

Here are examples to translate "she went there after only a week" without ambiguity :

  • Adding seulement:

    Elle n'y est allée qu'une semaine seulement après son arrivée en France.

  • Changing turn of phrase to add context:

    Il ne lui a fallu qu'une semaine pour y aller après son arrivée en France.

    Elle n'a attendu qu'une semaine pour y aller après son arrivée en France.

    Ça ne lui a pris qu'une semaine pour y aller après son arrivée en France

  • Nice, but the last example sounds very odd to me...
    – Random
    Aug 25 '16 at 10:02
  • Maybe "dès la première semaine après son arrivée en France" sounds less odd. I think the example is correct ("dès" is followed by a timestamp) but I agree that it sounds odd after repeating it more than 10 times.
    – Tac
    Aug 25 '16 at 11:21
  • Indeed, "dès" is much more natural followed by "la première semaine", but what follows wouldn't fit... I don't see a way to turn it right with the same meaning... it should be something like "dès la première semaine de cours" for instance...
    – Random
    Aug 25 '16 at 12:07
  • I'm removing this example as it is not necessary at all for the point.
    – Tac
    Aug 25 '16 at 12:18
  • 1
    Really nice answer, just a thing: Elle n'y est allée qu'une semaine seulement après son arrivée en France sounds a bit redundant to me because of ne... que + seulement, but if you ommit ne... que so it's ambiguous again because seulement is ambiguous...
    – Destal
    Aug 25 '16 at 14:12

Tac's answer is right about the ambiguity, so you could say:

Elle n'y est allée qu'une petite semaine après son arrivée en France

Precising the week is little, you mean it was a short period. You could say courte (short) too.

Care about another ambiguity: the original phrase (and my proposition) could mean She only went there for a week, when she arrived in France.


In my mind, the way to fix this is related to the fact that with a phrase like ne ... que, you're trying to "negate" a quantity or degree. The way that you currently have the sentence set up, you're matching ne ... que to the verb rather than to a quantity or degree. So, we can add that emphasis by trying to put a quantity or degree in there that we can then "negate" with ne ... que

I would say something like:

Ce n'était qu'une semaine après son arrivée en France qu'elle y est allée ...

That way, it's the phrase "C'était une semaine après son arrivée" that we can "negate" rather than "Elle y est allée," which doesn't have a quantity or degree associated with it.

  • I think that your answer doesn't resolve the ambiguity, because you could also say "Ce n'était que 10 ans après son arrivée en France qu'elle y est allée" to mean it took her long time.
    – Tac
    Aug 25 '16 at 8:36
  • Could you? I've always been under the impression that ne ... que is a limiter, which implies that the quantity could be much bigger, but isn't. So, "Ce n'était que 10 ans après ..." would suggest to me that we expected her to stay for much longer than that (rather than emphasize that it took a long time). Aug 25 '16 at 13:17
  • On the other hand, if we did want to emphasize that length, I could see using a sentence like "Ce n'était qu'après 10 ans en France qu'elle y est allée" Aug 25 '16 at 13:44
  • +1 for noting that it’s not clear (at least to me) what is being limited in the OPs construction (in fact I see ambiguity in the English "she only went there after a week," ‘cause it could mean she went to/tried lots of places (bars?) during the first week, but after that she settled on one, her favorite). Regardless, +1 to @Tac , too, for the last 3 rewrites. In fact, your most recent comment suggesting “qu'après 10 ans en France” is my favorite and I think that construction might also work with the OPs original construction/word order:“Elle n'y est allée qu'après 10 ans/1 semaine en France.”
    – Papa Poule
    Aug 25 '16 at 14:05

Ce n'est pas avant une semaine après son arrivée en France qu'elle y est allée.

  • Bienvenue sur FLSE ! Pouvez vous détailler votre réponse ? Ne donner qu'une solution sans explication n'aide pas beaucoup l'OP à comprendre les nuances. De plus, la phrase proposée sonne fausse a mon avis...
    – Random
    Aug 25 '16 at 14:19
  • Sorry for not giving any explanation. Please consider my answer as an intuitive one as it's difficult for a non linguist native french speaker to understand the logic of its own language. Well, the sentence sounds strange. Sure, it's not beautiful, but it does the job. "pas avant" kills the ambiguity. >Ce n'est pas avant un mois après son arrivée à Paris qu'elle a visité la Tour Eiffel !
    – C. Nü
    Aug 25 '16 at 15:17
  • 2
    Your answer does not add anything to the previous answers and I doubt any French native would say anything like that. I wouldn't.
    – None
    Aug 25 '16 at 15:57
  • For whatever reason, the OP states a desire to "still [use] ne ... que" and although your suggestion has "ne" near its beginning and "que" near its end, I, granted a non-native speaker, see it instead as using the negating "ne ... pas" construction together with a stand-alone "que" serving as a conjunction to introduce a (circumstantial?/subordinate?) proposition. Regardless, +1 for technically, if not idiomatically, satisfying the OPs "ne ... que" requirement.
    – Papa Poule
    Aug 25 '16 at 17:40

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