Bakari is a very useful word in Japanese when it comes to forming (and understanding) certain grammatical patterns. That’s why today I’m going to be going over bakari’s meaning in Japanese, and providing examples that illustrate them.
Bakari is a double-edged sword in that its strength of versatility is also its weakness since it can be really confusing to understand at first. Hopefully by the end of this lesson you will have a better grasp on it though.
The very first thing you should know about bakari is that it is usually spelled in hiragana as ばかり, but it does have a specific kanji as well which you will see less often: 許り. For the purposes of this article, we’ll stick to the more common hiragana version of the word.
Used for the Quantity of Something
The first way that I’d like to go over is when ばかり is used with the quantity of something in Japanese. It is used to talk about an approximate amount of something, and In English this is usually translated as about; more or less, or approximately.
The main thing to keep in mind about this usage is that ばかり will get attached to the counter of the noun.
I have about ￥100 on me (in cash).
You may have noticed that the direct object particle を is missing from that last sentence. It can be left out when you have an exact number of something, such as one hundred yen.
Something else that you should at least be aware of with this usage of ばかり is that it tends to focus on the smallness of the amount. If you wanted to say about or approximately when referring to a large number of something, it might be better to go with くらい instead.
By the way, in case you were wondering, ばかり is actually considered a particle most of the time.
Used to Show an Action has Just Been Completed
The second way that ばかり can be used is by combining it with the past-plain form of a verb (た or だ) in order to say that you “just finished” or “just did” that action.
I just sat down now.
I just ate breakfast.
This pattern of た／だ + ばかり is a very similar in meaning to another pattern involving ところ in Japanese, in fact they are almost identical, but the main thing to keep in mind between the two is that ばかり is more emphatic.
Something else that I should touch on here is that there are some slightly different versions of the word ばかり that are used more often in casual speech. They have the same basic meaning, so there’s no need to worry about them too much. Just become familiar with them now and you should be good.
- ばかり – standard version
These tend to be more informal, so you’re much more likely to hear them when watching a show, rather than read them in a newspaper or official document of some sort.
It Can Mean “Only” but with a Nuance of Excess
Much like the words だけ and しか in Japanese, this next usage of ばかり is one that means only in English.
However, while だけ is the regular way to say only, and しか is closer to nothing except for, the flavor of ばかり for only is one that expresses some sort of excess.
My son only eats candy (too much, in fact).
I eat ONLY Ice Cream.
And there is another pattern that uses ばかり which is similar to what we just went over, but it is formed slightly differently.
The pattern is ～てばかりいる which is simply the gerund (or ている form of a verb) with ばかり placed inside of it.
The meaning here is to do nothing but or only and it has negative connotations with it. Let’s see some examples to clarify this new explanation.
My friend is doing nothing but reading manga.
Hey, if you only play around, you will fail your exams!
Not only X, but also Y
Alright, we are getting close to the end and I only have two more patterns to go over with you today.
The first one is very similar to another pattern involving だけ which is used to say “Not only X, but also Y” but the main difference is that this ばかり version of it brings a feeling of excess, or is used just to be more emphatic.
The basic pattern is: X ばかりでなく、Y も…
Miho is learning not only Spanish, but also Chinese.
Today, not only did I do some shopping, I also saw a movie.
Thinking of these grammar structures as patterns can be really helpful in not only understanding them, but also memorizing them as well.
The Final Explanation on Bakari
Alright, so I haven’t explained 100% of every possible understanding of ばかり, but I’ve gone over the most common ones that you are most likely to come across. Now I’d like to do one final one, and then wrap this lesson up.
This last pattern is created by simply adding に to the end. This of course makes ばかりに and it gets added into certain phrases to mean as if.
The most common one is ～と言わんばかりに (…as if to say~) and can be seen in this final example:
He laughed as if to say “it’s fine.”
Know any other explanations on bakari in Japanese? Have any example sentences you’d like to share? Write them down in the comments below and let me know!
Further Resources for Learning Japanese: