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In English, "barely"/"hardly" can be used both with a connection to time ("just finished"):

I had barely finished eating when he arrived. (食べたばかり...)

or to express the idea that a goal was reached at great effort, sometimes against expectations:

We barely made it alive.

There was so much wind, I could barely move forward.

I can hardly explain it myself.

The former (time-related) can generally be translated well with words like ばかり/ばっかり. There are also a few expressions such as ギリギリ or やっとこ, that can express both shortness of time and "difficulty", but building them in the above sentences would be slightly unnatural.

Beside these, is there a more idiomatic way to unambiguously translate that "can do with difficulty"/"nearly couldn't do it, but still managed" adverbial meaning in sentences like the ones above?

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So … do you want typical translations of “hardly” and “barely”? That is what a dictionary is for! – Tsuyoshi Ito Sep 1 '11 at 12:26
@Tsuyoshi: really? I would hope it's obvious enough that words like "hardly" are not something you pick out of a dictionary... Granted, this is not exactly a complicated question (sorta the point in asking it), but I don't think it's dictionary-trivial either. – Dave Sep 1 '11 at 13:01
See translations and examples in, e.g., New Global Eiwa, and you will find typical translations. This is the typical usage of a dictionary. :) – Tsuyoshi Ito Sep 1 '11 at 13:21
@Tsuyoshi: I strongly disagree. Although a dictionary will certainly give some translations of some of the senses, and possibly offer examples that help figuring which sense is what. This question is more grammar and usage than vocabulary (as I point out in my own question, 'barely' has many different nuances in English: it's not clear how they map to Japanese). As such, I think it is both quite on-topic and not a dictionary question. – Dave Sep 2 '11 at 0:30
Dictionaries try to list different usages of words, and all your examples are surely covered in middle-sized dictionaries. It is unfortunate that you seem to ignore the usefulness of dictionaries and refuse to learn how to use them. – Tsuyoshi Ito Sep 2 '11 at 0:44
up vote 5 down vote accepted

First, for your lunch example, I'd definitely use "かないかのうち" rather than "ばかり"

Then, for idiomatic ways with adverbs、what about "ほぼ〜ない" or "ほとんど〜ない"?

ほとんど聞き取れないような声 (a barely audible voice)

You may try "辛辛" or "辛くも", but I never used (nor heard) them.

辛くも勝利する (win by a hair)

Or なんとか

何とか締め切りに間に合った (we barely met the deadline)

According to edict, 碌々 and まず, both followed by a negative construction, seem to work too, but ALC doesn't know anything about that.

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I think かろうじて fits for most of these. If you want a more "dangerous" sense, 危うく might work. For "I can hardly explain it myself", maybe something like 「自分だって説明がほとんど出来ないんだよ。」 (Edit) It just occurred to me, For the time sense ones, you can also use とたん: 「食べ終えたとたん、彼が着いてきた。」 "Just as I finished eating, . . .". やいなや also has the "as soon as" meaning, but I think it has a negative connotation. 「部屋の中に踏むや否や、けんかが始まった。」 "The minute I stepped into the room, the argument was on."

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