In the sentence: 一度にケーキを全部は、とても食べられない。

I am confused about the function and placement of 「一度」. Also, the object is the 'cake' because of the particle を, but why is it followed by 全部 as the subject?

I know the meaning of the sentence is: "I can't possibly eat the entire cake all at once." But maybe I would have constructed it this way: ケーキは全部とても食べられない。

What is wrong with my sentence? Please clarify.

  • Where did this sentence come from? – istrasci Apr 4 '17 at 17:00
  • from the Intermediate Japanese Workbook (Japan times). It is given as an example in one of the exercises. – cgo Apr 4 '17 at 17:03
  • 全部 is an adverb. は can follow adverbs or adverbial phrases as well beside nouns. – user4092 Apr 5 '17 at 2:40
  • You could think of 「一度にケーキを全部は(とても)食べられない」as partial negation (部分否定) of 「一度にケーキを全部食べられる」, perhaps? The は is a "contrastive は" (取り立て詞). – Chocolate Apr 5 '17 at 7:31

First, 全部 is an adverb here. Quantities and numbers are often expressed adverbially in Japanese, and it usually comes after the noun (see this). Second, using は after 全部/全員/すべて/etc in a negative sentence has an important role; it distinguishes no and not all.

  • 全員が来なかった。 No one came.
  • 全員来なかった。 Not everyone came (although some came).
  • その本の全部を読まなかった。(†) I read nothing of the book.
  • その本の全部読まなかった。 I did not read all of the book. (I read only partly)
  • すべて正しくない。 Nothing is correct.
  • すべて正しくない。 Not everything is correct (although they are mostly correct).

† その本はまったく読まなかった (using an adverb) is usually common and better

Note that in the examples above, 全員 is used as a subject, 全部 is used as a (pro)noun, すべて is used as an adverb. I think this type of は should be seen as a contrast marker, not a topic marker.

And this also means your attempt, ケーキは全部とても食べられない, is likely to mean "I can never eat any cake", which is totally different.

一度に here means "at one time". It is another very common adverb and it modifies 食べる. 一度に and 全部 are often used together ("all at once"). The following four sentences mean the same thing.

  • 一度にそのケーキを全部はとても食べられない。
  • そのケーキを一度に全部はとても食べられない。
  • そのケーキを全部一度にはとても食べられない。
  • 一度に全部は、そのケーキをとても食べられない。 (unusual, emphatic word order)
  • Is it wrong to think of は as the topic marker here or does it function as a contrast marker in addition to being the topic marker? Also, is it possible to turn the sentence to something similar to 「全員が来なかった。」 where the meaning differs from the original? – siikamiika Apr 5 '17 at 7:30
  • The object of 食べる is obviously ケーキ in the original sentence, so IMO there is no reason to think "ケーキを全部" as a set noun phrase. Colloquially we can say "ケーキを全部は無理だよ!" and in this case は may be a topic-and-contrast marker. You can also say 一度に全部のケーキは食べられない (where this 全部 is a noun). – naruto Apr 5 '17 at 7:49
  • Thanks. I found the sentence in my question as a little bit unusual from what I have been reading. The book was teaching the pattern とても〜ない (like: とてもたべられない). What happened was the first part of the sentence caught me off guard. I was wondering if this is a rather usual form? (referring to 一度にケーキを全部は...) – cgo Apr 5 '17 at 12:27

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