Seen in use in France like this:

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I know that it means "[the products] are waiting for [you]", but I don't understand what the ne (n') is doing here, since there's nothing being negated here.

What is this kind of expression called and how should it be used in general?


Ne ... que doesn't negate anything here, it is what we call a restrictive ne que. It has the meaning of seulement/uniquement.

It is used here to draw the customer's attention that the products are specially meant for them. You could translate the sentence as:

  • Our products are just meant for you.
  • Our products are just (only) waiting for you.

Further examples:

Je n'attendrai qu'une heure. (I'll only wait for an hour.)

Je ne veux parler qu'à toi. (You're the only one I want to talk to).

Look also at this question and its answer: Using the restrictive « ne ... que » construction to emphasise a degree/extent

Edit to respond to @StéphaneGimenez's comment.
In order to negate using ne..que you would need to add the negative adverb pas.

Here's what Grevisse (Le bon usage) writes:

Ne... que n’a pas vraiment un sens négatif, puisque cette locution équivaut à seulement. C’est en quelque sorte une négation infirmée.
[...] Le sens positif de la construction explique les faits suivants : 1) on emploie et et non ni s'il y a coordination [...] : Le prisonnier ne recevait que du pain ET de l'eau. ; 2) on approuve par oui une phrase avec ne...que et on la conteste par non : Ne prenez-vous que l'eau ? OUI, ou au contraire NON ; 3) cette phrase peut recevoir une forme négative : Je NE bois PAS QUE de l'eau.

The use of pas with ne...que has been criticized in the past (half a page of quotes and arguments in Le bon usage) but it is widely accepted nowadays.

From the bdl:

Par ailleurs, on peut nier la restriction exprimée par ne...que en employant l’adverbe pas entre ne et que. La tournure ne...pas...que, qui a déjà été critiquée, est aujourd’hui passée dans l’usage.

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  • I disagree with “meant for you (customers)”. All it says is that they are waiting for you to buy them. Even though nobody thinks about it this way, as part of the underlying “logic”, which is “products aren't waiting (for anything) but for you”, the negation does negate something. – Stéphane Gimenez Jul 25 '19 at 8:40
  • @StéphaneGimenez I get your point about "meant" but I was trying to convey the commercial logic behind the phrase. I can't see what the phrase "ne que" could negate/nullify here... but I will ponder about it ! – None Jul 25 '19 at 8:46

The turn of phrase ne... que... is used to mark the restriction. Ne is Placed before the verb of the sentence and que in front of the term to which the restriction applies.

It means seulement (only). It does not imply a negation.

Je ne bois que de l’eau = Je bois seulement de l’eau.

Ils ne font que travailler = Ils ne font pas autre chose.





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In English you'd say simply this;

  • Franprix products are waiting only for you.

The word "que" is the basic translation of "only"; as a matter of fact, in very relaxed French you could do away with "ne" and put that sentence this way;

  • Les produits Franprix attendent que vous.

However, people considered to speak French well always add the particle "ne"; the construction "ne … que" serves the purpose of expressing a restriction; in this usage "ne" is called a "particule de semi négation"; it is, according to certain authors "un peu plus qu'explétif et un peu moins que négatif".

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  • 2
    Ce n'est pas un explétif ici. C'est une construction qui s'appuie sur une vraie négation. – Stéphane Gimenez Jul 25 '19 at 8:15
  • Can you cite these authors? The grammars and the web links I consulted call this turn (ne...que) as a restrictive one. – Dimitris Jul 25 '19 at 9:21
  • @Dimitris I can't cite one specifically concerning "ne …que"; I deduce that myself on the grounds that in relaxed speech "ne" is not needed and that therefore no negation is really at work; I do have the notion of semi negation from somebody else, though; it's not my idea : 1/ « Je doute qu'il n'y retourne, » (...) « ici le « ne » est un peu plus qu'explétif et un peu moins que négatif » (THIBAUDET, Réflex. litt., 1936, p. 245).,TLFi, at "explétif" 2/ Demeure donc la difficulté de l’emploi judicieux (et restrictif) de la semi-négation « ne ». ref. – LPH Jul 25 '19 at 9:30
  • Thanks. May be you will be interested in this article alafortunedumot.blogs.lavoixdunord.fr/tag/… – Dimitris Jul 25 '19 at 9:32
  • And also here orthogramm.wordpress.com/tag/verbe-restrictif – Dimitris Jul 25 '19 at 9:35

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