だけ (dake) Meaning Japanese Grammar - Only

Author Sandro Maglione for article 'だけ (dake) Meaning Japanese Grammar - Only'

Sandro Maglione

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だけ (dake) Meaning Japanese Grammar - Only

The particle だけ (dake) means only, just, as much as, at least.

だけ states a limitation, something that is the only or unique among several options and choices. だけ shows the limit or maximum or minimum extent of something.

In this post we learn more about the meaning of だけ, how it is formed, and when だけ is used through real example sentences.

How だけ is formed

The particle だけ is added after verbs, adjectives and nouns. When だけ follows an adjective in な, you need to add な between the adjective and だけ:


The が and を particles are optional after だけ.


I love only you.

How and when to use だけ

The basic meaning of だけ is to indicate that even though there are several possibilities, only one is correct or has been chosen.


Only today all products are half price.

だけ indicates that out of all possible days, only today there is a half-price discount.


May I ask (only) one question?

In this second example だけ indicates that there is only one question. This sentence then uses the form てもいい to ask if it is possible to ask just one question ((しつ)(もん)).


This is the only kanji I can't read.




There is only one way to prevent this from happening.

だけ at the end of the sentence

When だけ is used at the end of the sentence, it indicates that the action performed is the only thing there is, nothing but....


I am just watching.

This form is also used to indicate that it's nothing serious, nothing happened.


I just scratched my knee (no big deal).

だけ with potential form: all I could do

When だけ follows the potential form of a verb (れる, られる), its meaning becomes as much as possible, the best I could.

Let's see an example:


I ran as fast as I could.

In this sentence we find the verb to run ((はし)る) in two forms:

  • Before the particle だけ, the verb is conjugated in the potential form (はし)れる to be able to run
  • After だけ, the verb is conjugated in the past tense (はし)った to ran

Thus だけ indicates that I ran as far as I could run, as fast as possible (limit).


I did the best I could.

だけ: at least

Another meaning of だけ is at least. This meaning is related to the concept of limit, in this case a minimum or lower limit.


In any case, at least 15 people will come.

In this example だけ follows the term 15(ひと) 15 people, indicating a minimum limit of people who will come ()る.

Be careful in recognizing whether the limit indicated by だけ is the maximum ("maximum 15 people") or the minimum ("at least 15 people"). The correct meaning depends on the context.




If you give it to me without a fight, I will at least spare your life.

だけ with adjectives ending in な

Since adjectives in な can be used both as nouns and adjectives, you have to pay attention to how the sentence is conjugated with だけ to understand the meaning:

  • When だけ is preceded by an adjective in な followed by な, then the term is an adjective
  • When だけ is not preceded by な, then the adjective behaves like a noun, and the meaning of the sentence changes


Eat as much as you like.

In this sentence the adjective like ()き is followed by な. For this reason ()き acts as an adjective, and the sentence translates as eat as much as you like.


Eat only what you like.

If in the same sentence there is no な after ()き, then the meaning changes. In this case ()き indicates something you like: for this reason the sentence translates as eat only the things you like.

Examples of だけ


Let's take a break of only 10 minutes.


Do as much as you can with your homework please.