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How to translate plain form + ばかり? And what's the difference between plain form + ばかり vs. te form + ばかり?

For example: 赤ちゃんが泣いてばかりいます。In my understanding this means "The baby is always crying/does nothing but cry".

can I say 赤ちゃんが泣くばかりです。And if yes, how would it be different from the above?

Finally, is one form more common than the other or are both commonly used? I mostly see grammar explanations for the te form version, but I also found examples with the plain form (without also finding a clear explanation of the difference).

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I think the biggest difference between the two is that 「V辞書形+ばかり」 is used when the verb has caused a state change and that change is continuing to happen. As mentioned in the answer by Nicholas Couvrat, it's generally used negatively. I.e. something bad is continuing to happen.

  • 増えるばかり 増えてばかり : something increased and is continuing to increase

  • 悪くなるばかり 悪くなってばかり: something got worse and is continuing to get worse

  • 加速するばかり 加速してばかり: something accelerated and is continuing to accelerate

Another to note is that 「V辞書形+ばかり」 can mean "V is the only thing one can do/is left to do"

  • 死を待つばかり: (I) can only await death

  • From a Japanese translation of Roses from the Earth: Biography of Anne Frank (you can find it by searching Shonagon):

    • 衛生状態は救いがたいまでに悪化、その劣悪さは目をおおわしむるばかりとなった。 - Here the Japanese translation captures the lack of choices available. Note that おおわしむる is 覆わしむる which means the same as 覆わせる.
    • Hygienic conditions reached their horrifying low when the corpses of thousands of victims were simply left lying in the compound.

Another thing to note is that it doesn't have to be negative in meaning (for example よくなるばかり is very rare but is grammatical):


「て形+ばかり」 is used when something happens repetitively. It is also used primarily negatively.

Examples from here (which also has a nice image):

  • 彼女は勉強してばかりいる: she is always studying (and doing nothing else and thus is boring)
  • お父さんは休みの日は寝てばかりいる: my father is always sleeping on his off days (and doesn't do things like spend time with family etc)
  • ジュースを飲んでばかりだ: (he) only drinks juices (instead of drinking something better for him)

Lastly, ~てばかり+いる/います is possible with the same meaning, but V辞書形+ばかり+いる/います is not.

  • Does ~てばかり require a verb that indicates control/volition. For example, is 悪くしてばかり valid and 悪くなってばかり not? – G-Cam Feb 16 at 6:45
  • @G-Cam I think 悪くするばかり is okay, but 悪くしてばかり isn't. I think though that ~てばかり does require a choice because I think there's an implication one should be doing something else instead. – Ringil Feb 16 at 14:11
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「て形+ばかり」and 「辞書形+ばかり」have one thing in common: they both are used with a negative connotation, i.e. they show the negative opinion of the speaker towards something. As such, they are similar but have slightly different usages:

「て形+ばかり」

Is used to say "always" or "many, many times", but with a negative meaning, i.e. too much. Examples:

  • 彼は一日中テレビ見てばかりいるよ。He is watching TV all day (and should do something else)
  • 最近は忙しすぎて、インスタントラーメン食べてばかりの毎日だ。I'm eating only instant ramen (and I know it's bad for me)

Note that you could also use it at N + ばかり + V as in:

  • 最近は忙しくて、インスタントラーメンばかり食べている (same meaning as above)

「辞書形+ばかり」

Expresses the fact that a (bad) change is ongoing, or that something changed state and then stayed that way. Or that some state is staying the way it is for a long time (this is the usage that looks similar to the て form. I would say the nuance is that a) it emphasizes the fact that some kind of change led to this and b) it stresses the fact that something is staying the way it is rather than happening often -- if someone disagrees, feel free to comment).

  • 近頃、体調が悪くなるばかりだ (the fact that my health is getting worse is an ongoing bad change)
  • 結婚のことでもやもやするばかりだ。(meaning similar to what you would get using もやもやしてばかり, but I would say the nuance is that you started もやもや one day in the past and stayed that way until today, whereas the て form would be that starting from one day in the past you had many もやもや episodes until today)

As to your question, I would say that ないてばかり feels more natural to me. 泣くばかり sounds a bit like it started one day and never stopped... but as I said above, the two forms can sometimes look alike, so someone else might have a different interpretation.

  • why was this downvoted? – Simona Feb 13 at 12:20
  • @Simona There was a comment by the probable downvoter that was deleted (no idea why) that said something along the lines of 辞書形+ばかり is not necessarily bad. – Ringil Feb 13 at 12:57
  • I would definitely be interested by the reason why and some more explanation, but I guess I'll have to make do with a silent downvote again... :( – Nicolas Couvrat Feb 14 at 10:21
  • @Ringil the answer looks valid to me, but as my Japanese is not advanced enough I can't decide whether it's okay for me to accept it or not... any opinion? – Simona Feb 15 at 7:14
  • @Simona Well, if you find the answer helpful you should consider upvoting it and accepting it. But if you don't feel it's quite satisfactory for your problem, you certainly aren't forced to accept it. You should also keep in mind that an accepted answer doesn't have to be 100% correct as long as it was useful for you personally. japanese.stackexchange.com/help/someone-answers – Ringil Feb 16 at 6:33

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