Language | WELL SAID

If you study just one thing this week, make it 'bakari'

by Akemi Tanahashi and Hitomi Tashiro

Contributing Writers

Kare wa kenshūsei to shite kita bakari desu. (He’s quite a new face as a trainee.)

Situation 1: Mr. Mita is complaining about new trainee, Adam, who has just joined his company.

三田: アダムくんの作った書類は、だめだなあ。

グレイ: 彼は研修生として来たばかりよ。しばらくの間、温かい目で見守てあげましょうよ。

Mita: Adamu-kun no tsukutta shorui wa, dame da nā.

Gurei: Kare wa kenshūsei to shite kita bakari yo. Shibaraku no aida, atatakai me de mimamote-agemashō yo.

Mita: The documents Adam made, they’re no good.

Grey: He has only just come as a trainee. Let’s go easy on him (watch him with warm eyes) for a little while.

The particle ばかり (just, only) can be used several ways in Japanese. When it is used with the ta-form of a verb, like 来(き)たばかり in Situation 1, it indicates the short amount of time that has passed since the action occurred, hence Adam has just come to the company.

The time span is relative to what you’re talking about, however. For example, in the sentence 買(か)ったばかりの財布(さいふ)を失(な)くした (I lost the wallet I just bought), the act of buying the wallet may have occurred a few hours earlier or even a few days earlier. So don’t feel like your use of ばかり needs to strictly adhere to a specific time frame — much like how you would use the word “just” in English (I bought the computer just last year and it has already stopped working):

あの頃(ころ)は、子(こ)どもが生(う)まれたばかりで、大変(たいへん)だった。 (That period, just after our baby was born, was tough.)

結婚(けっこん)したばかりの頃は、やさしい夫(おっと)だった。 (That time just after we were married, he was such a sweet husband.)

Situation 2: Mr. Okubo warns his daughter about spending too much time looking at her smartphone.

父: たか子、そんなにスマホばっかり見ていたら、目が悪くなるよ。

たか子: まだ30分ぐらいしか見ていないよ。

Chichi: Takako, sonna ni sumaho bakkari mite-itara, me ga waruku naru yo.

Takako: Mada sanjuppun gurai shika mite-inai yo.

Father: Takako, if you just look at your smartphone like that, your eyes will get bad.

Takako: I haven’t even been looking at it for 30 minutes.

In the pattern Xばかり, where “X” is not a verb but a noun, ばかり means “only/just” and carries a negative nuance:

塩辛(しおから)いものばかり食(た)べると、体(からだ)に悪(わる)い。 (Just eating salty food is bad for your health.)

この寮(りょう)に住(す)んでいるのは男子学生(だんしがくせい)ばかりだ。 (It’s just male students who are living in this dorm.)

The Xばかり pattern, therefore, helps with emphasis. For example, the term 文句(もんく)を言(い)う means “to say a complaint” (“to complain”) on its own, but when you add ばかり, 文句ばかり言う it can translate as “to do nothing but complain.” 嘘(うそ)をついている (to tell a lie) changes to 嘘ばかりついている (all he does is lie).

Bonus Dialogue: Ms. Tamachi and Ms. Gray are talking about Ms. Tamachi’s new diet, which seems to involve a lot of konnyaku, a gelatinous food made from devil’s-tongue starch that is regarded as having few if no calories.

田町(たまち): ああ、おなかがすいた!

グレイ: えっ、さっき、お昼(ひる)を食べたばかりなのに?

田町: ダイエット中(ちゅう)だから、お弁当(べんとう)は、ほんの少(すこ)しだったのよ。今日(きょう)はコンニャクだけにしたわ。

グレイ: ダイエットをしているの?知(し)らなかった。

田町: 昨日(きのう)始(はじ)めたばかりだから。昨日の晩御飯(ばんごはん)もコンニャクだったの。

グレイ: そんなにコンニャクばかり食べていたら、やせるかもしれないけど、不健康(ふけんこう)になるよ。クッキーがあるけど、食べる?

田町: うわ、クッキー?…あ、いらない、いらない。がまんする。

グレイ: どうして急(きゅう)にダイエットをはじめたの?

田町: 角(かど)のブティックに、すごくかわいいワンピースがあったんだけど、試着(しちゃく)したら入(はい)らなかったの。友達(ともだち)の結婚式(けっこんしき)までにやせないと…。

グレイ: ダイエットなんかしなくても、田町さんは十分(じゅうぶん)スマートだと思(おも)うけど… 。

Tamachi: Jeez, I’m hungry!

Gray: Eh, even though we just ate lunch?

Tamachi: I’m dieting, so there’s not much in my bento. Today I only had konnyaku.

Gray: You started a diet? I didn’t know that.

Tamachi: Because I just started yesterday. I also had konnyaku for yesterday’s dinner.

Gray: If you just eat konnyaku, you’ll probably slim down but it’s unhealthy. I have some cookies, wanna eat one?

Tamachi: Whaaa, cookies? … Ah, I don’t need them, I don’t need them. I have to stay strong.

Gray: Why did you suddenly start a diet?

Tamachi: There was this really cute dress at that boutique on the corner, but when I tried it on I couldn’t fit in it. I have to get slimmer before my friend’s wedding ceremony.

Gray: Well, diet or not, I think you’re plenty smart (slim, stylish) just the way you are.

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