Language

Lowering expectations in Japanese with 'tada' and 'tatta'

by Akemi Tanahashi and Hitomi Tashiro

Contributing Writers

Tada no kaze ka to omotte-itara, haien ni natte-ita no yo. (I thought it was just a cold, but she’d caught pneumonia.)

Situation 1: Mrs. Okubo and one of her friends, Mrs. Ishii, are chatting about Mrs. Ishii’s mother.

大久保: お母さん、入院したんですって?

石井: うん。ただの風邪かと思っていたら、肺炎になっていたのよ。

Ōkubo: Okāsan, nyūin shita-n desu-tte?

Ishii: Un. Tada no kaze ka to omotte-itara, haien ni natte-ita no yo.

Okubo: So your mother was hospitalized?

Ishii: Yeah. I thought it was just a cold, but she’d caught pneumonia.

Today we will introduce you two expressions — ただ and たった — that are used for emphasis. ただ as a noun means “free,” i.e. “no charge,” as in:

入場料(にゅうじょうりょう)はただです。 (Admission is free.)

ただのX(=noun) also means “ordinary” or “common,” as in Mrs. Ishii’s remark. Another example:

この子(こ)はただの小学生(しょうがくせい)ではない。スケートボードのジュニアチャンピオンなのだ。 (This boy is not an ordinary elementary pupil. He’s a junior skateboard champion.)

ただ as an adverb expresses that the idea of “only” or “simply,” and is usually used with expressions such as だけ(only), しかない(just), ばかり(only) and にすぎない(only) that show limitations. Example:

私(わたし)たちは彼(かれ)が無事(ぶじ)に帰(かえ)るのをただ祈 (いの)るしかなかった。 (We can only pray that he returns safely.)

When ただ attaches to a word indicating a small number or quantity, it emphasizes that smallness:

この計画(けいかく)のただ一(ひと)つの問題(もんだい)は、資金(しきん)が足(た)りないことだ。 (The only problem with this plan is that the funds are insufficient.)

Situation 2: Continued from Situation 1.

石井: 母はお医者さんが大嫌いなの。早く行けばよかったん だけど。

大久保: お母さんの気持ちもわかるなあ。私もこの前、お医者さんで1時間ぐらい待たされて、診てもらったのはたったの5分ぐらいだったのよ。

Ishii: Haha wa o-isha-san ga dai-kirai nano. Hayaku ikeba yokatta-n da-kedo.

Ōkubo: Okāsan no kimochi mo wakaru nā. Watashi mo kono mae, o-isha-san de ichi-jikan gurai matasarete, mite moratta no wa tatta no go-fun gurai datta no yo.

Ishii: My mother hates going to the doctor. But she should have gone earlier.

Okubo: I understand how she feels. I was made to wait for about an hour in a clinic the other day but the examination only took about five minutes.

たった is the colloquial form of ただ, but たった only attaches to words that shows numbers or quantity, to emphasize their smallness. Example:

これだけ働(はたら)いてもたった5千円(ごせんえん)しかもらえない。 (Even for all this work, I’ll only get ¥5,000.)

Bonus Dialogue: At the end of their work shift, Mr. Sere talks to colleague Mr. Mita.

セレ: 三田くん、きょうはなんだかそわそわしてるね。

三田: そう? わかるかな。…実(じつ)は、彼女(かのじょ)に結婚(けっこん)を申(もう)し込(こ)もうと思(おも) って。

セレ: ええっ? その人(ひと)、先月(せんげつ)知(し)り 合(あ)ったばかりだろう? たった3回(さんかい) 会(あ)っただけで申し込むの?

三田: 回数(かいすう)なんか関係(かんけい)ないよ。ただ 彼女といっしょにいられるだけで幸(しあわ)せを 感(かん)じてる。

セレ: でも結婚って、ただ好(す)きだというだけじゃできないよ。彼女の仕事(しごと)のこととか、よく話(はな)し合った? あ、そういえば、エリさんはどうなった? 彼女のほうが三田くんには向(む)いていると思うけど。

三田: エリはただの友(とも)だちだよ。じゃあ、お先(さき)に。[たちさる]

セレ: やれやれ、三田くんが頭(あたま)を冷(ひ)やすことをただ祈(いの)るだけだ。

Sere: You look kind of restless today, Mita.

Mita: Oh, do you think so? Actually, I’m thinking of asking my girlfriend to marry me.

Sere: Really? You just met her a month ago, right? You’d propose marriage after just three dates?

Mita: The number of times has nothing to do with it. I feel happy just being around her.

Sere: But you can’t get married just because you love her. Have you talked a lot about her work and other things? By the way, what happened with Eri? I think she’s better suited to you.

Mita: She’s just a friend. Well then, you’ll have to excuse me. [He leaves]

Sere: Good grief, I just pray that Mita calms down.

GET THE BEST OF THE JAPAN TIMES
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5