10

それでも彼には、自分のことだけはわからない

I'm translating the above sentence from Japanese to English, and I'm having issues with understanding what だけはわからない means.

Why does だけ come before は? says that だけは means 'at least'; and https://jisho.org/search/だけは supports this with a definition of 'at least not (when followed by a negative)'. I know that わからない means 'to not understand' as its わかる in the negative form. When I tried to translate the above, the resulting sentence made barely any sense (Example 1) or it failed to convey the 'abstracting focusing' aspect of のこと (Example 2).

Example:

1) Even so, he understands anything but not what is only about himself.

2) Still, he at least doesn’t understand himself.

What do I need to know in order to properly understand what だけはわからない means in the above sentence?

  • 2
    は is still functioning as a contrast particle here. It can still mean "just" or "at least" depending on the context. See definition 1 of dictionary.goo.ne.jp/jn/136029/meaning/m0u to see why it can mean the latter. My tentative understanding of the line is that if there's one thing he doesn't understand, it's himself. – user26484 Aug 16 at 1:36
  • Possible duplicate: japanese.stackexchange.com/a/25831/9831 – Chocolate Aug 16 at 1:43
  • @user26484 I unfortunately will have to translate the dictionary to understand any of it. My understanding is that the には is acting as a contrast particle, but the は in だけは is something else. Am I misunderstanding the purpose of the second は? – Toyu_Frey Aug 16 at 17:53
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「~~だけ + は + Verb + ない」

is the pattern you will need to learn as it is commonly used. It is an expression that describes the single or very few exceptions to a phenomenon. It means:

"Someone [Verb] everything but/except ~~."

Thus,

「それでも彼には、自分のことだけはわからない。」

means:

"He, however, knows/understands everything but about himself."

or

"Things about himself are the only thing he does not understand."

To give you an actual example of the most commonly-used phrases in the real Japanese-speaking world, you will hear something like:

  • 「野菜{やさい}は大好{だいす}き。でも、ピーマンだけは食{た}べられないのよね。」

That means "I love vegetables. I eat all kinds except for the bell pepper."

  • 「お前{まえ}だけはわからん!」 said jokingly most of the time

This means "I understand a lot of people but you!" This is said when the other person has been acting strange.

It does not mean "Only you don't understand (something)." or "You are the only person who doesn't understand (something)."

  • Is there a name for the pattern that I can google to do further self-study, or a site that you would recommend? – Toyu_Frey Aug 16 at 17:34
  • I understand that のこと can be used to abstract or provide focus on a subject or person, as stated here: japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/2102/… abstracting": (2)(ア) ある物事に関連する事柄。 Things related to a particular thing. "focusing": (2)(イ) ある人物が動作・心情の対象であることを示す。 Indicates a person is the object of an action/emotion. I tried to use "only" to provide the "abstract" on what he doesn't understand, like you did in your translation. I'm aware that ~~だけ + は + Verb + ない does not mean "...only...". But thanks for reminding me. – Toyu_Frey Aug 18 at 5:25
2

You are over analyzing this sentence. だけは is not a special kind of grammatical construct. だけ is just a part of the topic of this sentence. The sentence then moves on to saying that the person in question doesn't understand this topic. In this case (only) themselves.

Source:

それでも彼には、自分のことだけはわからない。

Translation (gist):

Even so (comparing to something), he could understand everything but he could not understand himself.

Break down:

それでも彼には => Despite (this),

自分のことだけ => It is only the topic of himself

は => (highlights the previous segment as the topic of interest)

わからない => That (he) could not understand.

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