The following is a sentence on a blog post explaining different uses of the word "tout":

Je ne peux pas vendre que des parties de la voiture – il faut acheter le tout. (I can’t just sell parts of the car – you’ll have to buy the whole thing.)

Or, as I would translate it more literally: "I can't sell only parts of the car -- it's necessary to buy the whole thing."

I am wondering about that "que". Is it really a "ne..que" construction, with the "ne" being deleted (and the que moved after the infinitive, for some reason); that is, is it really the following:

Je ne peux pas ne que vendre des parties de la voiture.

(I'm guessing that "ne..que" precedes an infinitive if I want to apply "ne..que" to an infinitive; just as when "ne .. pas" is used with a conjugated verb, it surrounds it, but when used with an infinitive, it precedes it (as in "Je veux ne pas manger")).

If my guess is incorrect, then this is a new use for "que" that I have not yet learned. If so, it would seem that "que" is an adjective (or adverb?) meaning "only", and modifying "des parties de la voiture".

If this guess is correct, can I stick "que" before any noun or noun-phrase? Could I say, for example, "J'aime que les pommes rouges", or "Je vais donner des bon-bons à que les enfants qui sont sympas"?

1. Is "Je ne peux pas vendre que ..." actually "Je ne peux pas ne que vendre..", but with the "ne" deleted [and the que moved after the infinitive, for some reason?]
2. If that is incorrect, is "que" just an adverb/adjective that stands on its own, that I can use preceding any noun or noun clause?


Je ne peux pas vendre que des parties de la voiture.

You are dealing with a "ne ... pas ... que ..." construction here. Without "pas", "I can only/just sell parts of the car, but not the whole thing". By adding "pas", you can negate this "only/just" restrictive sense: "It is not possible for me to sell just/only parts of the car".

1) You cannot move "ne" and "pas" from their respective current positions.

2) The word "que {only/just}" in a restrictive sense always comes immediately before the word(s) that you want to qualify; the phrase "des parties de la voiture" is the very idea that you want to qualify with the restrictive "que":

not ... just/only parts of the car

(=) ne ... pas ... que des parties de la voiture

Je ne peux pas que vendre des parties de la voiture.

If you place "que" right in front of the verb "vendre", on the other hand, you are now imparting a restrictive sense to the act of "selling":

I cannot just sell X, (but also have to do other things with it: offer an after-sales service etc.)

The idea enclosed in parentheses is implied.

  • could I put in multiple "que"s here: "Je ne peux pas que vendre que des parties de la voiture", as in "Can I buy just the wheels and the engine of your used car?", "Sorry, I cannot only sell only parts of the car. I may either sell the whole car, or sell you parts of the car and get you to buy my daughter's Girl Guide cookies" .? – silph Apr 9 '18 at 8:18
  • @silph Unfortunately, no, just like using two "only"s like that is strange in English. – Con-gras-tue-les-chiens Apr 9 '18 at 10:01
  1. Je ne peux pas vendre que... is just the negation of Je ne peux vendre que...
    Je ne peux pas ne que vendre is agrammatical.
    Here are some examples:
  • Il n'a pas bu que de l'eau.
  • Je repensais à tous les mirages que j'avais ainsi découverts dans notre appartement et qui n'étaient pas qu'optiques. (Proust)
  • Sa boutique n'était pas qu'un lieu de rendez-vous. (Céline)
  1. Here, que is still part of the ne ... que splitted negative so doesn't stand on its own but there are a few standalone que cases, e.g. :
  • Aucun lieu pour se distraire que le cabaret. (No entertaining location but the cabaret)
  • Une leçon qu'à moitié sue. (A partially assimilated lecture)
  • Héloïse aime les pygmées albinos, mais pas que. (...but that's not the only people/thing she likes)

Examples and references from gabrielwyler.com:
- Ne...pas que... et ne...pas...que...
- Que absolu

  • I am having trouble grammatically parsing the last two sentences in the quote in #2, but I may ask a separate question for that. I must say, though, that this makes it tricky for an FSL -- que could be a relative pronoun, a conjuction, AND a standalone "only"! So if I understand you correctly, my two sentences are incorrect: "J'aime que les pommes rouges", and "Je vais donner des bon-bons à que les enfants qui sont sympas"? – silph Apr 9 '18 at 8:12
  • 1
    J'aime que les pommes rouges is casual spoken French. Je vais donner des bonbons à que les enfants is incorrect. That should be Je [ne] vais donner des bonbons qu'aux enfants qui sont sympas. – jlliagre Apr 9 '18 at 8:16
  • Is this because "que" is not allowed to split "aux" into à and les? – silph Apr 9 '18 at 8:27
  • 1
    Yes, à que le, à que la, à que nos, etc. and à que les are forbidden constructions. – jlliagre Apr 9 '18 at 8:31

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.