Using restrictive ne … que to express only with compound tenses (French Negations)

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You already know how to use "ne ... que" to express 'only' in negative sentences with simple tenses. Find out how to do the same with compound tenses in French.

How to use "ne ... que" with compound tenses in French

Look at these examples:

Je n'ai que fait mes devoirs.I only did my homework.

Nous n'avons regardé qu'un film.We watched only one film.

Nous n'avons que mangé des bonbons.We only ate sweets (that's all we did!)

Nous n'avons mangé que des bonbons.We ate sweets only (we ate nothing else)

Remember that with ne ... pas (not), pas can only be placed after the auxiliary verb (être or avoir in compound tenses). See Ne ... pas = Not - with compound tenses (French Negations)

In constrast, the restrictive que in ne ... que can be placed either after the auxiliary verb or in front of the word it's restricting. Always place que in front of the word you restrict.
Note that ne is always placed in front of the auxiliary verb, BUT que can never be in front of the auxiliary verb.


ATTENTION:  

The tricky part here is that in English you usually place the restrictive only before the verb, even when the restriction applies to other elements of the sentence, and use intonation to insist on this element:
I only WENT to the cinema. vs I only went to the CINEMA.


In French we use the position of the restrictive que as an indicator of which element is being restricted:

Je ne suis qu'allé au cinéma.I only went to the cinema (I did nothing else)
 -> Here the restriction is on the action of going, meaning I've only DONE this, only this action.

VERSUS

Je ne suis allé qu'au cinéma.I went to the cinema only (I went nowhere else)
-> Here the restriction is on the destination, meaning I only went THERE, only this place.


NOTE: You can also use seulement which means only in French, though it is not as elegant.

Je suis seulement allé au cinéma.I only went to the cinema.
 

See also the simple tenses cases Using restrictive ne … que to express only with simple tenses (French Negations)

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Examples and resources

Nous n'avons regardé qu'un film.We watched only one film.
Je n'ai que fait mes devoirs.I only did my homework.
Nous n'avons que mangé des bonbons.We only ate sweets (that's all we did!)
Nous n'avons mangé que des bonbons.We ate sweets only (we ate nothing else)
Je ne suis qu'allé au cinéma.I only went to the cinema (I did nothing else)
Je ne suis allé qu'au cinéma.I went to the cinema only (I went nowhere else)
Je suis seulement allé au cinéma.I only went to the cinema.
I'll be right with you...