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If ばかり could mean approximately; about; and could also mean only; merely; nothing but;, then how should we know if this sentence 5000円ばかりもっている。 means:

1) I have about 5000 yen.

or 2) I have only 5000 yen.

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I've never heard of it meaning "about". – istrasci Jun 28 '11 at 2:44
up vote 13 down vote accepted
  1. ばかり after an amount or a quantity means 'approximately', 'about':

    5000円ばかりもっている。→ I have about 5,000 yen.

    僕はここ3年ばかりあの人に会わない。→ I haven't seen him for about three years.

  2. The sense of 'only', 'just' works after a verb:

    列車はたった今ついたばかりです。→ The train has just arrived here.

    or a noun/pronoun (not indicating a quantity):

    あの人は勉強 ばかりしていて... → All he does is study

Note that ばかりに, ばかりか etc. also exist and work differently.

As @Scott just pointed out, in your example, you would use だけ or しか (+negative) to mean "only".

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thanks for the clear answer =D – Pacerier Jun 28 '11 at 15:42

If the verb is past tense it means "just" happened. If the verb is -te iru it means only.

There are about 3 or 4 other uses that arent used as much. bakarini nado...

× 5000円ばかりもっている。 doesnt sound right.

○ 5000円だけ持ってる

○ 5000円しか持ってない

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@Scott: Hi Scott and thanks for contributing! Please note that you can edit your answer at any time to add more content or precisions. Your comment above was better fit for an edit: I moved it back (feel free to improve the formatting further)... – Dave Jun 28 '11 at 6:58
5000円ばかりもっている。 sounds perfectly right. It means "I have as much as 5000 yen." – user458 Nov 15 '11 at 2:41

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