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I was trying to understand 今はただ, which I eventually concluded must mean: just now. I explain it to myself as ただ emphasises the noun now, as only or just one. Is this correct?

While on it, I came across: ただ今, which appears to have the same literal meaning.

Do these two statements mean exactly the same thing or are there any differences in meaning or use?

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    But 今はだ doesn't have だ... Maybe you meant to type 今はだ?
    – chocolate
    Dec 25, 2016 at 0:59
  • Sorry, typo corrected. The full phrase for context is: 今 は ただ、安心 して、おやすみなさい。
    – vandeever
    Dec 25, 2016 at 1:15

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ただ今 is a single formal word that means (just) now, (at) present, (very) soon, etc. It works as a noun and as a standalone adverb without any particle.

  • ただ今より会議を開始します。(formal)
    Now we start the meeting.
  • 彼はただ今参りますので、少々お待ち下さい。(formal)
    He will come (very) soon, please wait for a moment.

今はただ is three words (今 + は + ただ), and there's nothing idiomatic. 今は means (as for) now, and ただ means just, only, merely, etc. For example,

  • 今はただこの写真が残っているだけだ。
    Now only this photo remains (everything else is lost).
  • 今はただ眠りたい。
    I just want to sleep for now.

Note that ただ in 今はただ is an adverb that modifies something different than 今 (usually a following verb).

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