Japanese Grammar

Expressions for Numbers and Amounts: も, だけ, しか, ばかり, and すぎる

しか: only

Last time, you learned how to express comparison, e.g. “なかさんはたまねぎよりいもべます (Tanaka-san eats potatoes more than onions).” Then, if you would like to say, “Tanaka-san eats ONLY potatoes,” what should you say? In this lessons, we will delve deeply into the world of numbers and amounts.

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How to Express Numbers and Amounts in Various Ways

Table of Contents
Number + も: Surprise
だけ and しか…ない: Nothing Except for X
ばかり: A Large Numbers or Amounts
すぎる: To Excess or Too Much

In the previous lesson about combined particles, we used the terminology: Focus Particle は and も. By combining them with normal particles such as に and で, you can express detailed nuances. The words that you will learn here can also be categorized into the focus particle group. Thus, please be aware of the following grammatical rules. The basic ones are: (1) Focus particles are replaced with the particle が and を. (2) Apart from が and を, focus particles are attached to particles like には and では.

Focus Particles: も, だけ, しか, and ばかり

Number + も: Surprise

[わたしは / が]  たまねぎを10じゅっ った / いました
[Topic / Subject] Direct Object Verb
[I] (surprisingly) bought ten onions.

When you attach the focus particle も to numbers, your speech indicates surprise because of the amount. In this context, English translation doesn’t work well, but you may consider this as “even” or “as many as.”

さんかんはなした / はなしました)。
[We] talked for as many as three hours.
ほん100ひゃくページんだ / みました)。
[I] even read 100 pages of the book.
100ひゃくページほんを(んだ / みました)。
[I] read the book which surprisingly contains 100 pages.

When you use “number + も” in negative sentences. There are some cases where you can interpret it in two ways. You need to judge meanings based on contexts.

10じゅうにん学校がっこうに(なかった / ませんでした)。
Surprisingly, ten people didn’t come to school.
Surprisingly, not even ten people came to school.

だけ and しか…ない: Nothing Except for X

[わたしは / が] たまねぎを10じゅっだけ った / いました
[Topic / Subject] Direct Object Verb
[I] bought only ten onions.

だけ doesn’t indicate that amounts are large or small. The function is to express that people voluntarily limit something. When だけ is used with particles, the grammatical rule will work differently. (1) だけ is sometimes used with the particle が and を together like だけが and だけを. (2) だけ can be attached to particles in the opposite order, i.e. both だけに and にだけ are correct.

にくだけを(べる / べます)。
[I] will eat only meat.
けっだけもとめられて(いる / います)。
Only results are required.
かあさんにだけがみを(いた / きました)。
[I] wrote a letter to only my mother.
いちかんだけた / ました)。
[I] slept for only an hour.

Be careful; when you combine だけ with the particle で (means), the order will change the meaning.

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For reference, のみ has the same function as だけ, but sounds more formal.  Thus, your speech may sound unnatural if you use のみ in casual tone. In the following examples, only the second one is proper to use such a formal word.

にくのみを(べる / べます)。
=> Unnatural
けっのみもとめられて(いる / います)。
=> Natural


[わたしは / が] たまねぎを10じゅっしか わなかった / いませんでした
[Topic / Subject] Direct Object Verb
[I] didn’t buy anything but ten onions.

しか is always used with the negative form. The function is to express that there is no option except for X or people reluctantly limit something.

さいしかべない / べません)。
[I] don’t eat anything but vegetables.
ほんしか使つかわない / 使つかいません)。
[I] don’t use anything but Japanese.
べんきょうするしか(ない / ありません)。
[I] have nothing to do but study.
ほんみっしか(いなかった / いませんでした)。
[I] was in Japan for just three days.

*The third example above is a case where focus particles modify verbs. You may memorize that as a set phrase; “Verb + しかない” indicates “have nothing to do but X.” 

Difference between だけ and しか…ない
さかなだけべ(なかった / ませんでした)。
[I] only didn’t eat fish.
さかなしかべ(なかった / ませんでした)。
[I] didn’t eat anything but fish.

When だけ is used with the negative form, the difference from しか…ない is very clear. They indicate the opposite meanings.

さかなだけべた / べました)。
[I] ate only fish.
さかなしかべ(なかった / ませんでした)。
[I] didn’t eat anything but fish.

When だけ is used with the affirmative form, the facts are the same: You ate fish and didn’t eat other foods. However, the nuance is different. だけ indicates you choose to eat only fish at your own will, while しか indicate you have no options to eat other foods or reluctantly eat fish. If you look at English translations, だけ and しか are often translated “only” and “just.” Please focus on the connotations.

ばかり: A Large Numbers or Amounts

[わたしは / が] たまねぎばかり った / いました
[Topic / Subject] Direct Object Verb
[I] bought a lot of onions (*onions occupied most of the purchase).

The function is to express a large number or amount. ばかり can be also used with the particle が and を like ばかりが and ばかりを. The meaning will vary depending on contexts. Let’s pick up some examples one by one. If you try to naturally translate the following examples, both of them may be “I’m drinking only coke.” However, please be aware of the difference.

*The frequency that you drink coke is high.
*There is nothing that you drink except for coke.

Considering the characteristic, だけ is suitable for when you are exclusively doing something. For example, if you want to say “I almost always watch TV every day,” ばかり is suitable because it’s inevitable that you see something apart from TV in everyday life.

The frequency that you watch TV is high. => Natural!
There is nothing you watch except for TV. => Unnatural!

ばかり is sometimes used between the te-form and いる i.e. ばかりいる.

あかちゃんはいてばかり(いる / います)。
Babies almost always are crying.
友達ともだちあそんでばかり(いる / います)。
[I’m] hanging out with my friends all the time.

In colloquial expressions, ばかり sometimes becomes ばっかり or ばっか and predicates can be omitted.

あかちゃんはいてばっか(いる / います)。

すぎる: To Excess or Too Much

This is not a focus particle. Rather it needs to be conjugated. When it comes to i-adjectives, it can be a little tricky.

All Verbs: Utilize the Polite Form and Attach すぎる Instead of ます

Ru-verb ます すぎる
ます すぎる
U-verb ます すぎる
はなます はなすぎる
Exception ます すぎる
ます すぎる

I-adjectives: To Replace the Last い with すぎる

I-adjective かわい かわいすぎる
さむ さむすぎる

Na-adjectives: To Attach すぎる

Na-adjective げん げんすぎる
きれい きれいすぎる

Negative Forms: To Replace the Last い with さ and Attach すぎる

Ru-verb さすぎる
U-verb かな かなさすぎる
Exception しな しなさすぎる
I-adjective かわいくな かわくなさすぎる
Na-adjective げんじゃな げんじゃなさすぎる

Note: There are i-adjectives which end with ない like “なさけない: pitiable, shameful.” Some of such i-adjectives follow the conjugation of the negative form, i.e. なさけなすぎる. You have to memorize those exceptions.


[わたしは / が] たまねぎを すぎ / ました
[Topic / Subject] Direct Object Verb + すぎる
[I] bought too much onions.

The function is to express that a number or an amount is too much. You can consider すぎる is the counterpart to “too,” “too much,” and “to excess” in English. This is usually used for bad meanings. However, young generations use this to speak favorably of someone nowadays.

かっこよすぎ(る / ます)。
[You] are too cool.
昨日きのうべすぎ(た / ました)。
As for yesterday, [I] ate [meals] to excess.
おとうとべんきょうをしなさすぎ(る / ます)。
[My] younger brother studies for little time.

When you point out someone or talk about customary actions or states, you can use …すぎる as a noun by dropping the last る. Here, the first and the third example are applicable.

かっこよすぎ(だ / です)よ。
[You] are a too cool [man].
昨日きのうべすぎ(だった / でした)。
=> Unnatural.
おとうとべんきょうしなさすぎ(だ / です)。
[My] younger brother is the one that studies for little time.


  1. Number + も indicates surprise at the amount.
  2. だけ indicates you choose to do only X at your own will.
  3. しか…ない indicates there is no option to do anything except for X or reluctantly do X.
  4. ばかり indicates there is a large amount of something.
  5. すぎる indicates there is too much of something.

Congratulations! You have completed the key sentence pattern section. We have picked up the nine major sentence patterns, which are enough to survive in Japan by using Japanese language. Your knowledge about Japanese grammar has greatly increased. Next, you will finally enter the last section: modality (speaker’s feelings) in the Japanese essential grammar. がんばってください。

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