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安全な所はここしかない

I think there may be 2 explanations of しか in this sentence:

  • しか replaced the case particle が. But if we transform it back and change the negation to the positive form: 安全な所はここだけある.
    I added the だけ to imply the meaning of "only". But this sentence sounds a little unnatural, so I don't think it's the correct explanation.
  • しかない is transformed form である: 安全な所はここだけである.
    It sounds natural and has a similar meaning to the original sentence. But to use しか for である, shouldn't it be 安全な所はここしかない?

These 2 explanations correspond to ここがある and ここである respectively. But which is correct? The question maybe equal to this: Is the ない in the original sentence 非存在を表す形容詞 or 否定の助動詞?

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  • I'm not sure what you are asking... It is a standard usage of しか: 打消しの語を伴って、特定の事柄以外のものを全く否定する意を表す。 What else would you expect as an explanation?
    – sundowner
    Jul 10, 2023 at 10:47
  • @sundowner I just want to know the grammar structure of ここしかない. I'm not sure if it comes from ここがある. Do you think the sentence 安全な所はここだけがある is natural?
    – shepherd
    Jul 10, 2023 at 11:09
  • I'm also not sure what you are asking. Why do you have to start from an affirmative sentence? It just adds something to 安全な所はない.
    – aguijonazo
    Jul 10, 2023 at 11:34
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    I think the core question here is "But to use しか for である, shouldn't it be 安全な所はここしかない?" which seems legitimate to me.
    – naruto
    Jul 10, 2023 at 11:37

3 Answers 3

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First, Xでしかない and Xしかない have different meanings.

Xでしかない = nothing other than X; nothing more than X; merely X

  • それは夢である。That's a dream.
    それは夢でしかない。That's nothing more than a dream.
    それは夢しかない。×

  • 彼は学生である。He is a student.
    彼は学生でしかない。He is merely a student.
    彼は学生しかない。×

Xしかない = X is the only option; there is nothing but X; there is only X

  • 行くなら候補は日曜日である。If we go, the option is Sunday.
    行くなら候補は日曜日でしかない。If we go, the option is nothing but Sunday.
    行くなら候補は日曜日がある。If we go, there is an option of (going on) Sunday.
    行くなら候補は日曜日しかない。If we go, the only option is Sunday.

  • 正しい答えはAである。The correct answer is A.
    正しい答えはAでしかない。(You may be thinking B is correct but) the correct answer can be nothing but A.
    正しい答えはAがある。(You may be thinking there is no answer but) there is a correct answer, A.
    正しい答えはAしかない。(You may be thinking there are multiple correct answers but) the only correct answer is A.

  • 安全な場所はここである。The safe place is here.
    安全な場所はここでしかない。The safe place is here (and not somewhere else).
    (The focus is "which place is considered safe?")
    安全な場所はここがある。As for safe places, we do have this place.
    安全な場所はここしかない。The only safe place is here.
    (The focus is "how many safe places are there?")

  • 10円玉がある。There are 10-yen coins.
    10円玉しかない。There are only 10-yen coins.

Semantically, the Xしかない pattern denies the existence of other options, so it's ない for 存在, and that's why で must not be used.

But that does not mean we commonly say 候補は日曜日がある, 安全な場所はここがある and so on. These are natural only when you need to strongly emphasize the existence of X, as shown above. Normally, である can be seen as the natural "opposite" of those しかない sentences.

Also note that しかない is over 100 times more common than だけがある. There are some rare contexts where だけがある could sound natural, but let's not use it as the base of our discussion here.

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  • Thanks a lot! So your point is that grammatically, Xしかない could be seen as made from Xがある. But in many cases, Xがある is not natural, while Xしかない could still be used and has the similar meaning to Xでしかない which is made from Xである. Right?
    – shepherd
    Jul 10, 2023 at 15:10
  • @shepherd Basically yes, but I just made an edit and tried to illustrate the small difference beteen Xしかない and Xでしかない.
    – naruto
    Jul 10, 2023 at 15:13
  • Thanks! I think your answer totally sovles my question. Really thank you!
    – shepherd
    Jul 10, 2023 at 15:18
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This question seems to be based on the assumption that every negative sentence has to have an affirmative counterpart, but I don’t think it’s a valid assumption. It could be in a way related to this question, or more precisely, what Karl Knechtel said in the last paragraph of their answer. For me, the core part of the sentence is 安全な場所はない. It talks about the non-existence of something. I don’t see why it should be assumed to be convertible to a sentence that talks about the existence of something. Non-existence is non-existence. The core sentence might as well contain a phrase like ここ以外に, and such a phrase would be straightforwardly interpreted as modifying the predicate ない.

安全な場所はここ以外にない。

Then why can’t we see ここしか as playing a similar adverbial role in 安全な場所はここしかない?

It’s also kind of similar to how expressions of quantity work.

安全な場所は3つある。

By converting this into a negative sentence with しか, we get:

安全な場所は3つしかない。

This is different from 安全な所はここしかない only in that 3つ is a quantity and ここ is not. Both are exceptions to the general non-existence. Safe places don’t exist but, exceptionally, there are three places that are safe, or only this place is safe. I don’t see why these two require different explanations. I think we could simply accept that a negative sentence with しか allows a non-quantity expression in the same position where other sentences allow a quantity expression, unmarked by a case particle.

Incidentally, 安全な所はここしかない can also be understood as saying the same thing as 安全な場所はここしかない, which is the flip side of 安全な場所はここだけある. In this case, しか can be seen as appended to a に-phrase that denotes a place where something exists (or not).

The flip side of 安全な場所はここだけである would be 安全な場所はここしかない, but it means a different thing. ここ is a predicate in this case. Few people would interpret 安全な場所はここしかない this way.

In any case, the subject of the sentence is 安全な場所 and not ここ. It’s wrong to compare it with any sentence where ここ is marked with が.

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  • I've long thought of しか as a noun that was the subject of the sentence but your explanation of しか taking an adverbial role makes much more sense. This also explains why there is no を when used as a direct-object-looking thing 肉しか食べてない. Additionally, the flip side of 安全な場所はここだけである cannot be 安全な場所はここでしかない because the copula である is not divisible and as such the meaning is different.
    – 0149234
    Jul 10, 2023 at 17:44
  • Non-existence and existence is Japanese are totally different because to convert from one to the other (keeping the meaning "the same") would entail changing the type of the sentence (from "ending in copula or verb" to "ending in i-adjective") and that is a change that the Japanese language uses to add certain connotations (although not always).
    – 0149234
    Jul 10, 2023 at 17:56
  • In 安全な場所はここでしかない what is the subject of the sentence? and how would you parse it?
    – 0149234
    Jul 10, 2023 at 18:10
  • @0149234 - As far as syntax goes, 〜でしかない is no different from 〜でない, 〜でさえない, 〜ですらない, etc. 〜でない is, at least was, among these.
    – aguijonazo
    Jul 11, 2023 at 4:27
  • As しか, は are called 係助詞 which are different from other 副助詞 like だけ, しか is often added behind a part of speech or repalces case particles. 安全な場所は3つある is correct and しか can be safely added behind it. But 安全な所はここある is not correct, so you must think of the しか in 安全な所はここしかない to have repalced some case particles such as が or を. 安全な場所はここにある is right, so you can definitely say 安全な場所はここにしかない as しか can not replace the に-particle. It's not about the assumption that every negative sentence has to have an affirmative counterpart, but it's about the usage of 係助詞.
    – shepherd
    Jul 11, 2023 at 4:58
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I think about しか as a noun-ish thing meaning "more than" or "other than". (This is wrong, check aguijonazo's answer)

So,

安全な所はここしか(が)ない。

しか would be the subject.

でしか would mean something like "more than a certain state of being" (check the examples given by "naruto"). Grammatically, で is the て form of the copula as in 無事でよかった。

This is congruent with the other answer but maybe not grammatically accurate.

I don't know why が is omitted. But this also happens when しか is used as a direct object 「肉しか(を)食べてない」 giving me the idea of noun-ish thing I talked earlier. (Again check aguijonazo's answer for an explanation that accounts for these problems)

I don't think しか transforms in any of the ways you described. Problems arouse when you assume that some transformation has to be taking place.

Now if you want to take the sentence:

正しい答えはAである。

And make use of しか, then you have to consider that this sentence uses the copula である. It is saying literally that "correct answer is A". However if you simply replace ある with しかない

正しい答えはAでしかない

"Correct answer being more than A does not exist".

In the first one the verb is "to be" (copula である) and in the second is "to exist" (ない negative of ある, not the copula である as copulas cannot be negated, think about です or だ). From this grammatical distinction, connotations follow as "naruto" described them.

Just for completion:

正しい答えはAがある

"Speaking of correct answer, A exists" (remember explicit が puts emphasis in the subject and see that the verb is "to exist")

正しい答えはAしかない

"Speaking of correct answer, other than A does not exist"

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