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How might I translate this phrase? Here are some examples for context:

  • I only ever get to see him during the holidays.
  • He’ll only ever be a friend (and nothing more).

My theory is that this idea can be conveyed with “ne ... jamais que.”

My attempts:

  • Je n’ai jamais que l’opportunité de le (du?) voir pendant les vacances.
  • Il ne sera plus jamais qu’un ami. (This seems wordy but accurate?)
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    First attempt, could be correct (albeit more sophisticated than the english version) if you put "que" between "voir" and "pendant". Your way indicate you can do nothing more than seing him during the holidays. – Pierre May 27 at 9:42
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Your first attempt is almost correct, you need to move que after the object of the verb (and du is not correct here btw).

Je n’ai jamais l’opportunité de le voir que pendant les vacances.

The second one is a little trickier because plus can mean two things, and plus jamais means never again (not never more). The second one should be:

Il ne sera jamais qu'un ami. (never more is implied, just like in English)

Or alternatively:

Il ne sera jamais plus qu'un ami (here jamais means never: "He'll never be more than a friend".)

(I used bold because the s is not silent)

The thing is, jamais in the sense of ever is rare and very literary, it's almost never used in spoken French. So it's correct for an essay (although your teacher might tell you the same thing) but I wouldn't use it for colloquial language.

For the first sentence you can juste drop it:

Je ne peux le voir que pendant les vancances

Je n'ai l'occasion de le voir que pendant les vacances

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    The "s" is not necessarily silent here. If it is, your traduction is correct, it is implied that he was never more and will never be more than a friend. If it is silent though it means that he was once more than a friend (a lover for instance) but he will never be again; he was "downgraded" to a friend forever. – Pierre May 27 at 9:36
  • The 's' in 'plus' is silent when negative, correct? I figured it wouldn't be silent, as both of you said, because the 'ne ... jamais' is the negative construction, and 'plus' is additional (is my logic sound here?). This is super interesting- I never realized a simple pronunciation could change the meaning in that way. Also, just a note: the English word for 'traduction' is 'translation.' :) – tssmith2425 May 27 at 9:43
  • @Pierre You're right, I added the precision because I wanted to give only one of the two meanings. And I was a little fast saying the first attempt is correct, I'll edit. – Teleporting Goat May 27 at 10:02
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    @tssmith2425 Yep, it's a pretty special case, because both plus and jamais can mean two different things that are more or less opposites :) – Teleporting Goat May 27 at 10:05
  • I think I’m also confusing myself a bit here, ha. ‘Il ne sera jamais qu’un ami’ almost sounds to me like it means ‘he’ll never be just a friend.’ No wonder ‘jamais’ to mean ‘ever’ is rare...I think I’ll stick with your second suggestion. :p – tssmith2425 May 27 at 18:21
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Il ne sera plus jamais qu’un ami. would rather translate to "[From now on] he won't be only a friend".

"Only ever" would have two distinct translations in your examples (for two different meanings) :

  • "I only ever get to see him during the holidays"

Je ne le vois que pendant les vacances

  • "He’ll only ever be a friend (and nothing more)"

Il ne sera jamais qu'un ami (et rien de plus)

Although the second one can have a very ambiguous meaning.

For instance, if you argue with your wife about her coworker and she wants to reassure you, she will say "Il ne sera jamais qu'un ami !" with a tonic tone : she will emphasize on the fact the the coworker will never be nothing more.

If she says "Il ne sera jamais qu'un ami ..." on a sympathetic tone, she will implicitly say that she will always consider him to be more than a friend.

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