A HOW TO on the Japanese words for ONLY

Yes, you read that right. I said “words”, as in plural. This is of course because the different ways of saying only in Japanese each give a slightly different nuance to the meaning of the whole sentence.

If it’s cool with you, I’d now like to give you a how to on the Japanese words for only so that you can use each one whenever you feel it is appropriate to do so.

Here we go!

だけ – dake

The easiest way to say only in Japanese is to use だけ (dake). In addition to “only” it can also be translated as “just” and it is usually used in a situation where you want to imply a limitation.

  • 日本語が少しだけ分る。
    nihongo ga sukoshi dake wakaru.
    I only know a little Japanese

Use this phrase to say that you know “only a little” bit of Japanese. Keep on reading to help solve that problem! 🙂

のみ – nomi

As I’m sure you are aware, the written part of a language is often different than the spoken part. It tends to be more formal and has additional grammar rules it needs to follow. How does that apply here? のみ (nomi) can be considered the written version of だけ (dake). You’ll read it more often than you’ll hear it.

But it can’t always be used… Use だけ (dake) instead of のみ (nomi) when it comes to adjectives and quantifiers.

ただ – tada

ただ (tada) also means “just” or “only” but has a different connotation than だけ (dake). Where だけ (dake) implys a limitation of some sort, ただ (tada) is used to say that something isn’t special. Kind of like, “this is nothing special, just a book I found.”

  • ただの本ある。
    tada no hon aru.
    It’s just a book.

しか – shika

Now here’s where things get a little interesting. しか (shika) also means “only”, and it is used very similarly to the way だけ (dake) is, but it has a little different meaning and construction. しか (shika) is used to express regret. As in, “I (regrettably) only have a bicycle” 🙁

The construction part is that you have to change the verb to its negative form.

  • 自転車しか持っていない。
    jitensha shika motte inai.
    I only have a bicycle.

しか (shika) can also be thought of as meaning “nothing expect for”, which is why you have to change the verb to the negative form. “I have nothing at all, except for a bike.”

唯一の– yui itsu no

Are you tired of all these different ways to say “only” in Japanese yet? Lol, sorry to throw so much at you all at once! I’ve only got one more for you now and it’s 唯一の (yui itsu no) and it means “only” as in “the only one of its kind.” Combine it with a noun to emphasize the uniqueness of it.

  • 唯一の愛。
    yui itsu no ai.
    The only love.

Hopefully you found those five different ways to say “only” useful. Here’s a quick recap:

だけ (dake) – only, expressing a limited amount
のみ (nomi) -written version of だけ – can’t always be used
ただ (tada) – just, as in “nothing special”
しか (shika) – “nothing except for” it expresses regret
唯一の (yui itsu no) – uniqueness, as in “the only one of its kind

Thanks! Leave me a comment and let me know what you think! 🙂


  • Vertical Veloxity

    This is a very useful tool to find the words to use for ‘ Only’ in Japanese.
    The Japanese cultural is so cool and what is a culture without the language. It is very integral. I studied a little Spanish but I do not know much.
    But the little I know connects me with the Spanish and Hispanic cultures.
    This was a very fun and interesting read. Thank you I learned something

    • Nick Hoyt

      Yeah, it’s so true how much the culture of a country is essentially connected to its language. One of the most well known characteristics of Japanese people is how polite they are. And the Japanese language actually has a polite form when it comes to speaking! Pretty cool!

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