I've been using Duolingo for the better half of my Japanese learning experience but recently I purchase the McGraw's Complete Japanese Grammar for more comprehensive learning.

I'm on chapter 7, which is about particles (を、が、は、に…). And so far I'm doing good with the particles themselves, but with later questions where ask you to translate entire sentences with more particle usage than the given answers. Which online translates think it's all right.

Such as:

  1. I only have a bicycle.
    • Given answer: 自転車しかありません。
    • My answer: 自転車しかありません。
  2. I only ate ramen.
    • Given answer: ラーメンしか食べませんでした。
    • My answer: ラーメンしか食べませんでした。
  3. My little sister read nothing but manga.
    • Given answer: 妹はマンガばかり読んでいます。
    • My answer: 妹はマンガばかり読んでいます。

Are those bolded particles allowed? Are they violating some rule I'm unware of? If they are allowed, why doesn't the answer key have them?

Bonus question My older sister does nothing but shop.

  • Given answer: 姉は買い物ばかりしています。
  • My answer: 姉は買い物してばかりいます。

Are these the same?

  • These aren't identical. At a bare minimum here, I will point out that 食べ[い]{●}ません is an impossible construction. You can have 食べ[て]{●}[い]{●}ません ("is/are/am not eating"), or 食べません ("doesn't/don't eat"), but not 食べ[い]{●}ません (nonsensical, maybe similar to "is/are/am not eats" in ungrammaticality). Commented Jun 12, 2021 at 0:21
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    い is not a particle. It’s part of the verb いる. Did you mean to put に in bold in that sentence?
    – aguijonazo
    Commented Jun 12, 2021 at 0:44
  • To agujionazo, yes, I'm sorry. I'm going to edit it right away.
    – Emu_Flock
    Commented Jun 12, 2021 at 2:49
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    To the downvoters -- your reasons for downvoting are not clear. The asker is clearly confused about particle usage and has stated their question in a relatively clear fashion. In future, please at least comment to suggest improvements to the question post. Commented Jun 14, 2021 at 18:35

1 Answer 1


が and を are simple case particles. When they are used with nuanced particles such as しか, ばかり, も and さえ, these replace が/を. You must say just しか instead of がしか or しかが even if this marks a subject. They sometimes replace and sometimes follow に/へ. They never replace から/まで/etc.

  • 自転車あります。 There are bikes.
  • 自転車しかありません。 There are only bikes.
  • 読みます。 I read a book.
  • しか読みません。 I only read a book.
  • 自転車乗ります。 I ride a bike.
  • 自転車(に)しか乗りません。 I only ride a bike.
  • 学校行きます。
  • 学校(へ)しか行きません。
  • 妹はマンガ読んでいます。 My sister is reading manga.
  • 妹はマンガばかり読んでいます。 My sister only reads manga.
  • 妹はマンガ興味があります。 My sister is interested in manga.
  • 妹はマンガにばかり興味があります。 My sister is interested only in manga.
  • 男性から手紙をもらいます。 I receive letters from males.
  • 男性からばかり手紙をもらいます。 I receive letters only from males.

Likewise, がばかり is ungrammatical, but ばかりが is fine. Each particle has exceptions you have to memorize eventually.

食べいませんでした is plain ungrammatical. You probably wanted to say either 食べませんでした or 食べていませんでした.

姉は買い物ばかりしています and 姉は買い物をしてばかりいます are both correct. They mean almost the same thing, but the former focuses on what she does, while the latter focuses on how she spends time.

  • As a clarification for the original poster: The しか is a bit like "but for" in English. The ~しか~ません construction can be thought of in English as "I don't [VERB] but for [thing marked by しか]". As an example: ピザ[し]{●}[か]{●}食べません → "I don't eat, but for pizza" → reframed as a positive: "I only eat pizza". Commented Jun 12, 2021 at 1:13
  • Well, yes. I guess I wasn't clear, sorry. The point of the exercise was to use しか, but I was wondering if putting these particles affect the meaning of the sentence. Hence why the particles were bolded, and those differ from the given answer key. I knew しか, along with は、も、and ばかり cannot be placed after が and を, right?
    – Emu_Flock
    Commented Jun 12, 2021 at 2:12
  • 2
    – aguijonazo
    Commented Jun 12, 2021 at 2:41
  • 1
    @EiríkrÚtlendi: I think "nothing but ~" is a better English translation of しか. I think "but for" sounds way too antiquated to make sense to the average English speaker. ピザしか食べません → "I eat nothing but pizza" ≈ "I only eat pizza".
    – istrasci
    Commented Jun 12, 2021 at 16:25
  • @istrasci, as an idiomatic translation, I agree with you. As a more direct translation to better understand what each of the pieces is doing, "I don't eat, but for pizza" accounts for the negative verb 食べません. This negative valence is required for grammatical use of しか, and I wanted to emphasize and clarify that in the English-language explanation. Commented Jun 14, 2021 at 18:33

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