Getting things done with just ‘dake de’ alone

by Akemi Tanahashi and Hitomi Tashiro

Contributing Writer

Isshūkan mizu-dake-de ikite-itan-da-tte. (He said he lived alone for a week on just water.)

Situation 1: The Okubo family are watching TV news about a boy who got lost on a mountain and was found a week later.

母:  うわあ、あの男の子、すごいね。一週間水だけで 生きていたんだって。

光男:  へえ、食べ物がなかったのか。そんなに長い間、 食べ物がなくても水だけで大丈夫なんだね。

まり子:  すごいね! まり子は、水だけじゃだめ。ジュースがないと。

Haha: Uwā, ano otoko-no-ko, sugoi-ne. Isshūkan mizu-dake-de ikite-itan-datte.

Mitsuo: Hē, tabemono-ga nakatta-no-ka. Sonna-ni nagai aida, mizu-dake-de daijōbu-nan-da-ne.

Mariko: Sugoi-ne! Mariko-wa mizu-dake-ja dame. Jūsu-ga nai-to.

Mother: Wow, that boy is great! He said he lived alone for a week on just water.

Mitsuo: What, he had no food? That means we can live on water alone for such a long time.

Mariko: Great! But I couldn’t do with just water. I need juice!

Today we’ll look at meanings and uses of the expression XだけでY. Here, X is a noun, だけ is the particle that shows the limit or range of X, and Y is the phrase or clause that describes the state, action or result. This pattern indicates that just X is fine/good enough, or that you can do something with X alone, as with the mother’s 水(みず)だけで生(い)きる (to live on just water) or Mitsuo’s 水だけで大丈夫(だいじょうぶ) (all right with just water). When X is a negative clause or one with a negative meaning, the pattern becomes XだけではY as in 水だけでは生きられない (unable to live on just water) or as in Mariko’s 水だけではだめ (impossible with just water), using じゃ, the colloquial contracted form of では.

Situation 2: A TV commercial advertises instant noodles.

コマーシャル: お湯をかけて3分待つだけで、おいしいラーメンができ上がります。

Komāsharu: O-yu-o kakete sanpun matsu-dake-de, oishii rāmen-ga dekiagarimasu.

Commercial: Just add hot water and wait for three minutes and your delicious ramen will be ready.

In the pattern XだけでY, X can be a verb or verb phrase in the noun-modifying form, as in the announcer’s 3分(さんぷん)待 (ま)つだけで (by waiting for just three minutes). One more example: この子(こ)は、人(ひと)の顔(かお)を一度(いちど)見(み)ただけで、その顔を正確(せいかく)に描(か)くことができる (After this child has seen a face just once, he/she can draw it accurately).

Bonus Dialogue: During a lunch break at the office, two colleagues are eating together. Ms. Gray notices Ms. Tamachi is drinking the same juice she did the other day.

グレイ:  あれっ、田町(たまち)さん、また…。そのジュース、ずいぶんお気(き)に入(い)りなのね。

田町:  ううん、そうじゃなくて、ダイエットなの。ちょっと値段(ねだん)は高(たか)いんだけど、「飲(の)むだけでやせられる」っていうすごいジュースなのよ。これを飲むと食欲(しょくよく)がなくなって、あまり 食(た)べなくなるの。ちょっと飲んでみる?

グレイ:   うん…、ウッ、甘(あま)い! こんなに甘いジュースを飲んだら、確(たし)かに食欲もなくなる。でも、これより、私(わたし)のダイエット法(ほう)のほうがずっといいよ、簡単(かんたん)だし、お金(かね)もかからないし。

田町:  どんな方法(ほうほう)?

グレイ:  自炊(じすい)するだけ。

田町:  ああ、栄養(えいよう)のバランスを考(かんが)えて、ちゃんとしたものを作(つく)るのね。

グレイ:  そうじゃなくて…。私、すごく料理(りょうり)が下手(へた)だから、自分(じぶん)で作ると、まずくて少ししか食べられないの。あ、でも田町さんはお料理が得意(とくい)だから、この方法はだめか。

Gray: Ah, Ms. Tamachi, that juice again! You must love it.

Tamachi: No, it’s not that, I’m on a diet. It’s a bit expensive, but it’s a great juice, as it says, “You can lose weight just by drinking it.” When I do, I lose my appetite and don’t eat much. Why don’t you have a taste?

Gray: OK … woah, it is sweet! Drink juice as sweet as this and you’re sure to lose your appetite. But my way is much better — it’s easy and won’t cost you a thing.

Tamachi: What method’s that?

Gray: I just cook for myself.

Tamachi: Oh, you mean you cook good food while thinking about the nutritional balance?

Gray: Not that: I’m a bad cook, so when I cook I can only eat a little, as the dishes are so bad. Oh, but Ms. Tamachi, you’re great at cooking, so this method would be useless for you.