Two ways of expressing 'only' in Japanese are だけ + positive verb and しか + negative verb. For example, the following sentences both translate to something like 'I drank only tea'.

  • お茶だけ飲んだ (1)

  • お茶しか飲まなかった (2)

I recently heard a native speaker use だけしか + negative verb, and Google brings up plenty of hits for this construction. For example:

  • お茶だけしか飲まなかった (3)

Is there any difference in meaning between sentences (2) and (3)? Does including 'だけ' just add emphasis?

1 Answer 1


Is there any difference in meaning between sentences (2) and (3)? => Not literally/factually

Does including 'だけ' just add emphasis? => Yes - see on

しか => used when more is expected

だけ => does not have this nuance



There was only one mistake


There was just one mistake

=> だけしか = no more than just....

Reference: A students' guide to Japanese Grammar by Naomi Hanaoka McGloin, p 70-77 covers the difference between だけ&しか.

  • I like to think of ~しか as meaning "no more than~". Aug 20, 2013 at 20:17
  • 2
    だけ can definitely have the "more is expected" nuance (これだけ???), but can also have the "less is expected" nuance (これだけ食べたらお腹が割れる), so it's quite subtle. Not sure if there are any clear rules for when it's one or the other.
    – dainichi
    Aug 21, 2013 at 5:30
  • I have added a reference but for 「これだけ???」 I would suggest the "more is expected" nuance is coming from the intonation rather than the words. The easiest comparison I can think of in English is the Australian and increasingly British habit of finishing a statement by raising their voice as if it was a question. (It is not a question but they are expecting/asking the listener to show they understand/agree.)
    – Tim
    Aug 22, 2013 at 11:59

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