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In this old question, it is said that ただのNOUN and NOUNだけだ are used thus:

If you meant to say, "It's just an ordinary snake" or the like, it needs to be ただの蛇だ。 If you meant "It's only a snake", as in a case where you were expecting a Yeti, it would be 蛇だけだ

However, in this article, the author says it's the other way around under the same circumstance:

Saying “It’s just a rock.”
Wrong: 石だけだ
Right: ただの石だ

I read the article on NihongoShark first last month, so I am quite annoyed now to see that people seem to disagree on something that I thought was meant to be a simple, and common usage. Personally, I find NihongoShark's detailed explanation and given context more convincing. However, since I once saw a few unnatural expressions on the website (can't remember what they were anymore), I have to take everything with a grain of salt. Whose claim do you agree with?

ご意見を伺いたいですから、よろしくお願いいたします!

  • So then ただの means ordinary when put in front of a noun? – Toyu_Frey Oct 15 '18 at 2:29
  • I think Narutoさん's answer explains it all. One thing I'd like to point out is that, sometimes when I talk to my Japanese tutor, I do use ただの__ when I believe だけ is more fitting in the context (a situation where the result is against my expectation). So far, he hasn't tried to correct that usage yet. – Yeti Ape Oct 16 '18 at 3:43
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NihongoShark's explanation does not seem to conflict with the first question. ただの石だ is "It's just a rock" in the sense of "That is merely an ordinary rock (and not a golem/coin/etc)".

石だけだ would usually mean "There are only rocks here, nothing else (but I'm actually looking for something else)" or something like that. 蛇だけだ means "There are only snakes around here (but I'm not interested in snakes now)".

  • "...we were walking through the forest, and I thought that I saw some mysterious figure (a dead body?!)" He expected to see a dead body, but saw a rock instead. This seems to fall under the だけだ usage as explained in the question and by narutoさん. I guess it depends on the speaker's intention more, but in his particular case, I don't see why 石だけだ needed correction. His girlfriend might've deemed it disrespectful to be eager to see a corpse, hence the reproach? – Yeti Ape Jun 7 '18 at 5:08
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    @YetiApe He was not walking in the forest in search of a dead body, right? Then he should say ただの石だ. If he were walking in the forest actually hoping he could find some dead bodies, 石だけだ ("Only rocks...") might make sense. – naruto Jun 7 '18 at 5:46

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