I read in some sentences やっと has several meanings like 'finally, & just'. I'm curious about the differences between them. Because when I substitute the sentence that have 'finally' meaning with 'just' meaning, it makes sense.

For example from the sentence that I found:

I just finished that work. (The meaning that I found in dictionary in weblio)

But when I translate it to: I finally finished that work.

It also makes sense.

Does anyone know the differences between this and how the Japanese language learner can identify it?

  • 2
    J-learners should be careful of trusting the "one-word English counterparts" that bilingual dictionaries give them. While "finally" would carry the same kind of nuance all by itself that やっと does, the word "just" really does not at least all by itself. – l'électeur Aug 4 '17 at 15:33

やっと is an interesting word. It has elements of both finally and just in its meaning. I think there is actually a better translation for it though. やっと according to jisho.org is translated as at last; at length. I like these translations better because it gives a sense that your task has taken a lot of time, or that it has taken a significant amount of time longer than you expected.

リポートを書きました。(I wrote my paper)

リポートをやっと書きました。(At last, I wrote my paper.)

Jisho.org also translates やっと as barely; narrowly; just; by the skin of one's teeth​. In the example sentence above we could also apply that meaning as well, and get something to the effect of:

I was barely able to write my paper.

You will find that the translation will vary with context. I'll give an example.

A:リポート書いた? (Did you write your report?)

B:うん、先週書くつもりだったけど、昨日、やっと終わったよ。 (Yes, I was supposed to write it last week, but I was finally able to finish it yesterday.)

Person B in this case is using the first definition, at length; at last. We can tell this because it took longer than he/she expected.

Lets continue this interaction between these two people, but two weeks down the road.

Two weeks later...

B: お前もリポートやっと書き始めたんだ? (#1) (Have you finally started writing your report?)

A: いや、まだ。だって、このクラスあんまり好きじゃないし。(Nope. Actually, I really don't like this class.)

B: でも、明日までには書かないと。宿題をやらないと、先生に… (But, you have until tomorrow to write it. If you don't do your homework the professor will...)

A: 分かってるよ!今晩、書くつもり。(I know, stop reminding me! I'm planning on writing it tonight)

The next day...

A: やばかったけど、おかげでやっと書けた。(#2) (It was tight, but thanks to your help, I barely finished writing the report in the neck of time.)

B: よかった。(Good for you.)

(#1) In the example above is still the first definition. Have you *finally* started writing your report? I used finally here because it sounds more natural in English than the direct translation, which is Have you started writing your report at last? We use this translation because it has taken person A a long time to get started writing his report.

(#2) In this example, we get the second definition. I cut it close, but thanks to you I was just barely able to finish the report in the neck of time.

To put it simply, you use やっと when something has taken a long time (finally), or when you were cutting things close (just barely).

  • If you need furigana or translations for the example sentences, let me know, and I'll be happy to do that for you. – ajsmart Aug 4 '17 at 14:26
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    Could I ask a question? Does a word "just" have a meaning of "finally, at last"? Are "just" and "finally" exchangeable? – Yuuichi Tam Aug 4 '17 at 15:09
  • @YuuichiTam I suppose there there are a few times when they could be interchangeable, like when you say I was just going to call you. But just in this case could mean finally, or it could mean only. There's a bit of ambiguity, and it depends on the context. Just is a hard word for me to explain as a native speaker. – ajsmart Aug 4 '17 at 15:14
  • Very unnatural-sounding example sentences, but you seem to have an OK understanding of the nuance of the word. – l'électeur Aug 4 '17 at 15:24
  • @ajsmart Thank you for your response and correction. It is "interchangeable" – Yuuichi Tam Aug 4 '17 at 15:25

I'd like to add something to ajsmart's answer, but I haven't the reputation to comment, and I find that I'm having trouble editing the answer without rewriting the whole thing. This is my take on ajsmart's examples.

A: Bさんは、もうレポートを終わらせましたか?
B: うん、先週までに終わらせるつもりだったけど、(ちょっと長引いちゃって、)昨日やっと書き終わったんだ。

A: Mr. B, have you finished your report yet?
B: Yes, I was planning on having it done last week, (but it took a little longer than expected,) and I finally finished yesterday.  

I feel like the portion in the parentheses was left out of ajsmart's example. While potentially unnecessary, there's a bit of jump between "I planned on finishing last week" and "I finally finished yesterday" that I feel should be bridged.


B: C君、やっとレポート書き始めたのか?
C: いや、まだ。これは違うやつさ。

B: C, you finally started writing your report?
C: No, not yet. This is for something else.

Here, it's implied that B sees C doing something that makes B thinks C is writing the paper, to which C responds that he isn't, but once again, I feel like he should address what he is actually doing to fully answer B's question.

C: やばかったけど、おかげでやっと書けた。
B: おつかれさま。

B: It was close, but I finally finished.
C: Well done.

Also, I must say that here やっと still means finally. So then, where does it mean "just barely"? Well, if we look on google jisho, they give this example:

Just enough salary to feed his family

Used with the previous example, you'd have to have something along the lines of:

Just enough time to finish the report

Basically, the format here is "やっと (verb phrase with verb in potential form) (some resource)",which comes to mean "Just enough (resource) to (verb phrase)".
This isn't something you'll hear or see all that often, though. As Takahiro Waki points out in comments, ギリギリ is more oft-used in popular culture.

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