Apparently the below means "Thanks, I'm just looking".

Merci, je ne fais que regarder.

Can someone please explain this translation? I just see: "Thanks, I do not do that to look".

  • "I don't do anything but look" – jlliagre Dec 19 '17 at 10:10
  • The mistake comes probably from the way the infinitive is translated in english: regarder -> to look – Distic Dec 19 '17 at 12:04
  • 2
    Don't use the following "trick" to actually translate anything (the results would nearly always sound unnatural at best), but when I was first learning French negations & struggling to make sense of the restrictive "ne ... que" construction in terms of what I thought I knew about negations, I would first think of it as "I'm not doing anything other than looking" (before eventually smoothing it out to "Just looking, thanks"), where I guess I was seeing the French version of "Not [VERBing] anything other than" (Ne [VERB] que) as simply omitting the "rien d'autre." – Papa Poule Dec 19 '17 at 15:33
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    « Que » does not only mean « that ». It can also mean « only » (when used with « ne ») or « so much/many » (when used with « de »). E.g. « que de cadeaux tu as là » = « so many gifts you have there ». English has the same with « what », e.g. « what a beautiful dress » or « how », e.g. « how nice this is ». – KPM Dec 20 '17 at 9:15
  • @KPM If you want to answer, please leave an answer – Cloud Dec 20 '17 at 10:28

"Ne faire que ça" can literally be translated as "To just do that", or "To only be doing that". You use this form to state that the targeted person is only doing one specific thing.

You could see that in a sentence with a different meaning.

Il ne fait que le ménage à la maison, rien d'autre.

That you could translate as:

He is only doing the cleaning in the house, nothing else.

That's the same idea in your sentence here. The person is doing nothing else but to look at something.

Your translation, "Thanks, I do not do that to look", would probably be translated as:

Merci, je ne fais pas ça pour regarder.


ne + verb + que means indeed only.

Je ne bois que de l'eau

Je n'ai que vingt dollars

With faire and an infinitive, it must be understood in the sense of "only do the activity of", ie, in your example je ne fais que regarder, it means I am only doing the activity of looking

I guess that the confusing word in here may be "ne", which is usually associated to negation: as confusing as it may sound, when used with que, ne does not mean not (or at least, the negative meaning has been gradually lost). In informal spoken French, it is even often dropped:

Je ne bois que de l'eau

becomes then in spoken language:

Je bois que de l'eau

  • That is really confusing, but thanks for the explanation! To me, it would sound a lot clearer like 'Je bois d l'eau seulement.' But I guess that wouldn't be used so much. – Cloud Dec 19 '17 at 9:01
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    Je bois de l'eau seulement sounds a bit odd. You will rather say je bois seulement de l'eau, but I feel that * je ne bois que de l'eau* is more common. – Greg Dec 19 '17 at 9:26

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