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だけ is frequently presented as meaning "only", "just", "merely", "no more than", as in:

最近は、漢字だけ勉強している。

Lately, I've only been studying kanji.

But it apparently has a secondary meaning which means the complete opposite (as far as I can tell), as in:

あれだけ勉強すれば、合格するのも当然です。

If you'll study to that extent, passing is only natural.

Here だけ seems to resemble the meaning of ほど.

Question: Is there any theoretical or intuitive explanation as to why 丈 encodes these two opposite meanings, into one? Or perhaps way of translating だけ that unifies these two meanings, somehow?

2 Answers 2

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Literally 丈 means length/amount/extent. (In measuring clothes, you see lots of 丈)

Adding an ambiguous example to the existing answer might help.

  • これだけ覚えればよいだろう. ('Remembering this amount should be enough')

This can mean either

  • Remembering this much/as much as this should be enough.

if the amount is felt a lot by the speaker; or

  • Remembering just this/these should be enough.

if the amount is felt as something limited by the speaker.

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You certainly wouldn't predict that these two meanings would attach to the same word, but they both seem to mark the boundary beyond which something ceases to be true. That's pretty abstract, I admit.

What confuses me is this:

好きなだけ食べてください

お前の知ってる日本語って、それだけか?

In the first sentence, だけ seems to be a noun. In the second, it just attaches to the pronoun それ in a fashion that you would not expect of a noun. So it's never been clear (to me) what part of speech it should be considered. It's a strange word, hard to grasp in its entirety.

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  • Note that all the generic referents of amounts can attach to the ~れ words this way: これ​**[ほ]{●}[ど]{●}**​、それ**[く]{●}[ら]{●}[い]{●}**、あれ**[ば]{●}[か]{●}[り]{●}**. This makes them syntactically adverbs, but in many other respects, they function as nouns. By way of comparison, note too that you cannot do this with the "seems, appears" word よう: *こ**[れ]{●}**よう is incorrect, and should be こ**[の]{●}**よう instead. I think that, when used as a noun, だけ often refers to "extent" as a positive, and when used as an adverb, it refers to "extent" as a negative, more of a limit. Commented Jan 17, 2023 at 18:14
  • (Apologies for the naff formatting; apparently the Stack Exchange folks never really implemented markdown or HTML tag formatting properly for comments. 🙁) Commented Jan 17, 2023 at 18:17
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    Your comment "they both seem to mark the boundary beyond which something ceases to be true" is very helpful. I think that unifies both meanings pretty well.
    – George
    Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 18:12

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