I have recently heard that the phrase のみ means "only". Does it come from another compound, like の実 or something? I don't think that's necessarily where it came from, but I would be surprised if that の was not the genitive particle. (Or conjunctive? I'm not sure what the right term is.)

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    大辞林 says 〔 (1) 語源は「の身」で,「…それ自身」と強調するのが原義といわれる。 (2) ① は漢文における文末助辞「耳」の訓読から生じた用法。 (3) 現代語では主として書き言葉に用いられ,これに相当する助詞としては,一般に「だけ」「ばかり」の語が用いられる〕 Sep 22, 2014 at 6:33
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    As I said on my other post a moment ago... Could you gloss this for me? Part of the reason I ask on here is because the sources I get referenced to are a bit out of my reach.
    – user3457
    Sep 22, 2014 at 7:28
  • related: japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/4444/…
    – cypher
    Sep 22, 2014 at 13:26
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    @Anthony I of course did not mean to have that be the answer, I just didn't have time to do a proper one (hence leaving it as a comment). Sep 22, 2014 at 17:04

1 Answer 1


Expanding on Darius's comment...

大辞林 says (1) 語源は「の身」で,「…それ自身」と強調するのが原義といわれる。 Comes from の身 (GEN. body). Original meaning is emphasis of "that thing itself".

(2) 漢文における文末助辞「耳」の訓読から生じた用法。 Comes from a native reading of the Classical Chinese word 耳

(3) 現代語では主として書き言葉に用いられ,これに相当する助詞としては,一般に「だけ」「ばかり」の語が用いられる In current usage, the word is mainly used in written material. Generally, 「だけ」 and 「ばかり」 are used to express the same meaning.

In case you don't understand (2), 耳 is used in Classical Chinese (漢文) as a contraction of 而已, a final particle meaning something like "that is all", "nothing more", "that is the end of that". The kun reading of 耳 is みみ, which was modified to のみ, according to this theory. Note that this matches up with its usage in Japanese as a final particle, in sentences such as the first comment below.

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    Although it says ①は, I wonder if note (2) was actually intended to describe sense ②(文末に終助詞的に用いられて)それ以外に致しようがないというような意を込めて,強く言い切る。 「なんとかしてこの苦境を逃れようと,ただあせる-」
    – user1478
    Sep 22, 2014 at 16:33
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    In 精選日国, it says 二(終助)強く言い切る漢文訓読で用いられる。 and has the note (4)二は、漢文における文末助辞「耳」が限定・決定・強調に用いられ、日本語の副助詞「のみ」の用法に近いため、訓読文において文末の「耳」字を「のみ」と必ず訓じるよ‌​うになり、意味も「限定」という論理性が薄れ、「強く言い切る」という情意性を表わすようになった用法。, so I think that ② in 大辞林 might be a misprint.
    – user1478
    Sep 24, 2014 at 13:34
  • "The kun reading of 耳 is みみ, which was modified to のみ, according to this theory." No, that's not how this should be interpreted. This is referring to a semantic widening of an already existing word のみ that are used in places where it once wasn't possible, influenced by the Classical Chinese usage of 而已 = 耳. It is not an explanation of the etymology of the word のみ; the fact that みみ and のみ shares a み is completely coincidental. Feb 21, 2022 at 9:47

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