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I've being studying Japanese over 3 years by now, but I don't think I've ever encountered a phrase to express "very little", like in a humble "I know Japanese language very little". Can I say 「本当に少し」or anything of this sort? I just don't see it being used. Thank you.

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  • It is no big deal but did you tick the right answer? There are many ways to say "I only know a little Japanese" but 本の少し (just a little) sounded like the useful expression you were looking for.
    – Tim
    Sep 16, 2014 at 10:33
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    Changed to your answer. I don't think there is objective correct answer here, so I guess the one that has most votes should be the best one, that's fair.
    – dimadesu
    Sep 16, 2014 at 14:56
  • @Tim By the way, I think it isn't normally written with the kanji 本. I think it's normally written ほんの少し like in your answer.
    – user1478
    Sep 17, 2014 at 15:54
  • @snailboat: Yes, that would make sense (thanks). The only places I recall seeing it written down are in dictionaries. 大辞林  gives「ほん‐の【本の」】」but Progressive uses hiragana. My answer is hiragana but I'll mention the root aswell.
    – Tim
    Sep 18, 2014 at 0:54
  • @Tim I think that it originally meant something like 本当の and came to be an intensifier for words like 少し expressing small quantities.
    – user1478
    Sep 18, 2014 at 2:31

3 Answers 3

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How about:

ほんの少し|just a little

The ほん comes from 本 but the examples in my Progressive dictionary are all use hiragana.

Logically

日本語はほんの少ししか知らない。= I only know a little Japanese.

(The extra し makes it a little tricky to say)

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  • Your answer was much better before you edited at least by the native speakers standards, which is why I gave it a +1. 「しか~~ない」 sounds more natural and humble than 「すこし/いくらか~~ある/できる」.
    – user4032
    Sep 16, 2014 at 14:34
  • @非回答者 I had not meant to suggest いくらか was equivalent. I thought "somewhat" was self explanatory. I'll remove it.
    – Tim
    Sep 16, 2014 at 22:32
  • Just FYI. ほんの少し is correct, but apparently in the context of that example, I was told that ほんの wouldn't be used and isn't necessary. Sep 17, 2014 at 5:49
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    @Armstrongest: That view conflicts with the comment above. If you really want to say "just a little" as a opposed to "a little" (which the OP does) then ほんの少し seems correct. 大辞林 gives ほんの少ししかない as an example.
    – Tim
    Sep 17, 2014 at 7:52
  • @Tim Yes, it is correct. However, when I asked my resident Japanese native speaker, they said it sounded awkward and unnecessary when saying "日本語はほんの少ししか知らない" Sometimes, language is more about common use and in this case, the way we use "just a little" doesn't have the same feeling to a Japanese speaker. Sep 19, 2014 at 9:39
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In addition to answers above:

  • ちょっとしか分からない - I can understand not more than a little.
  • ちょっとだけ分かる - I understand very little only (this can be perceived as a humble phrase which actually means you are positioning yourself as very knowledgeable).
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In casual speech, ちょこっと is usually used.

コーヒーは?

はい。ちょこっとだけです。

It's more of a modification of ちょっと somewhat akin to how we say "teeny" to make tiny seem even smaller.

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    ...worth to mention that ちょこっと is mostly used by women and less often by men which makes it an element of women language.
    – Rilakkuma
    Sep 15, 2014 at 21:30
  • Why would you use 「ですね」 there? Makes no sense.
    – user4032
    Sep 16, 2014 at 14:36
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    You're right. Bad habit of mine. removed. However, はい、ちょこっとね is used to soften. This is according to my Japanese father-in-law. Also, He doesn't feel it's particularly effeminate. Sep 17, 2014 at 5:41

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