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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".

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  • "I don't do anything but look"
    – jlliagre
    Dec 19, 2017 at 10:10
  • The mistake comes probably from the way the infinitive is translated in english: regarder -> to look
    – Distic
    Dec 19, 2017 at 12:04
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    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, 2017 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, 2017 at 9:15
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    If I wanted to answer I would have left an answer. This is merely a side note. I have been downvoted in the past for leaving a side note as an answer, so I’m not repeating the mistake.
    – KPM
    Dec 21, 2017 at 8:23

3 Answers 3

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"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.

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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

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  • 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, 2017 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, 2017 at 9:26
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I think the best english translation to make the word order work is to think of it as “I’m doing nothing but” where the ne verb pas form can be thought of as

“I’m ____ing nothing but”

Je ne fais que regarder - I’m doing nothing but looking Je ne bois que de l’eau - I’m drinking nothing but water

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  • 2
    This repeats information and examples from other answers. Please attribute your sources.
    – livresque
    Jan 23 at 4:24

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