The ばかり (Bakari) Form in Japanese: A Complete Guide

Bakari (ばかり)is a word that Japanese learners usually stumble upon early in their studies. We use the bakari form mainly with the meaning of “only,” “just,” or “nothing but ~.” It can be tricky, but together we will understand its meaning, structure, and how to use it naturally.

As you can see, bakari has a different meaning when combined with different forms of verbs or nouns. Let’s take a look at each in detail.

Noun + Bakari: Only, Just, Constantly

With noun + bakari, the speaker expresses that the amount or the frequency of something (noun) is more than expected or appropriate.

A formula in blue blocks that says, " noun + ばかり= only, just, constantly."

Examples:  

1. 梅雨が始まったので、雨ばかりです。
(Tsuyu ga hajimatta node, ame bakari desu.)
Since the rainy season started, it is constantly raining.

2. 仕事ばかりは、体によくないよ。
(Shigoto bakari wa, karada ni yokunai yo.)
Only working is not good for your health.

3. ここは日本料理の店のはずだったけど、寿司ばかり。
(Koko wa nihon ryouri no mise no hazu datta kedo, sushi bakari.
This shop was supposed to be a Japanese restaurant, but there’s only a lot of sushi.

In these examples, the bakari form expresses surprise, disappointment, and judgment, and it is mainly used with a negative meaning, but note that you can also use it in a positive sense!

Example: Bakari Used With A Positive Meaning

  1. 最近いいことばかり!
    (Saikin ii koto bakari!)
    Lately only good things are happening!

Using Bakari To Talk About People

You can also use bakari to talk about people.  When using bakari to talk about someone, the nuance is “this person only does or gets something.”

1. かわいそうに。いつも田中さんばかり叱られる。
(Kawaisou ni.  Itsumo Tanaka san bakari shikarareru.)
Poor thing.  Only Tanaka gets scolded all the time.

2. 私もがんばっているのに、田中さんばかり褒められる。
(Watashi mo ganbatteiru noni, Suzuki san bakari homerareru.)
I’m working as hard, but only Suzuki is praised all the time.

The Difference Between Bakari (ばかり), Dake (だけ) and Shika (しか)

A brown paper bag, Chinese take out containers, cups, a pair of chopsticks, knives, forks, and fortune cookies laid out on a table.

Some of you might be wondering, “doesn’t dake and shika mean only too?” What’s the difference?

ばかり (Bakari) vs. だけ (Dake)

Dake is the most “neutral” way to say only in Japanese. Using dake expresses a limit to what you have or do—nothing more, nothing less. 

For example, let’s say you got some take-out sushi for dinner with your friends. Everyone takes their food out of the bag. Your friend asks you to check the bag to see if there is anything else inside of it. When you check, you find that there are only disposable chopsticks in it.  

You could tell your friend something like this:

(この袋に) 割り箸だけ入っている。
(kono fukuro ni) waribashi dake hatteiru.)
There are only disposable chopsticks in this bag.  

You are simply stating what you see. There are only disposable chopsticks in the bag, nothing more, nothing less. Unlike bakari or shika, there are no feelings that there is too much or too little of something.  

Bakari is similar to dake but has a nuance of “there’s so much of something, that everything else is not as important.” In other words, with bakari, you are stressing whatever noun you are talking about. A good English translation of bakari is “There’s nothing but ~.”

If we take the same example from above but replace dake with bakari, we would get:  

(この袋に) 割り箸ばかり入っている。
(kono fukuro ni) waribashi bakari hatteiru.)
There’s nothing but disposable chopsticks in this bag!

By using bakari, you are implying that there are so many chopsticks in the bag (more than you expected). So, in this case, it’s possible that there are other utensils in the bag. Maybe there’s a spoon in there, but there are so many chopsticks that the spoon becomes insignificant.  

More Examples Using Bakari and Dake With a Noun:

1. ここは日本料理の店のはずだったけど、寿司だけだ。
(Koko wa nihon ryouri no mise no hazu datta kedo, sushi dake da.) 
This shop was supposed to be a Japanese restaurant, but there’s only sushi (and nothing else).

2. ここは日本料理の店のはずだったけど、寿司ばかり。
(Koko wa nihon ryouri no mise no hazu datta kedo, sushi bakari.)
This shop was supposed to be a Japanese restaurant, but there’s nothing but sushi (there might be other things, but there is so much sushi).

しか (Shika): Only, Anything But ~

Shika expresses a lack of everything else except the thing you are talking about. It is used exclusively with verbs in the negative form. You can translate it with “anything but.” It gives of a nuance that something is lacking or missing.  Imagine you’re at a store and your bill comes to $10.00. When you look in your wallet, all you have is $5.00. This lack of something is what shika implies.

Going back to our previous example, using shika would result in this sentence:

(この袋に) 割り箸しか入っていない。
(kono fukuro ni) waribashi shika hatteinai.)
There are only disposable chopsticks in this bag (but I want a fork/knife/spoon).  

Another Example of Shika:

ダイエット中なので、今週はサラダしか食べていない。
(Daietto chuu nanode, konnshuu wa sarada shika tabeteinai.)
Since I’m on a diet, this week I haven’t eaten anything but salad. 

 

Past Tense Verb + ばかり: Just ~

A verb in the plain past tense + ばかり (bakari) means that the action has just taken place and it has just been completed.

It is very straightforward, and you can start using it right away to step up your daily conversation.

1. 昼ごはんを食べたばかりなのに、またお腹すいてきた。
(Hirugohan o tabeta bakari na noni, mata onaka suitekita.
I’ve just had lunch, but I’m hungry again.

2. メールをまだ読んでいません。起きたばかりだから。
(Meeru o mada yondeimasen. Okita bakari dakara.
I haven’t read my emails yet. I just woke up.

Te Form Verb + ばかり+ いる: All I/You Do Is ~ | I/You Always Do ~

This form is used to describe an action repeated habitually in a criticizing or negative way, emphasizing that the subject is not doing anything else. 

The nuance is that you only do one activity when you should be doing something else. Imagine a mother telling her son, “All you do is play video games!”

1. 就職活動をしないで、毎日お酒を飲んでばかりいる。
(Shuushoku katsudou o shinaide, mainichi osake o nonde bakari iru.
He is not looking for a job, and all he does is drink every day. 

2. 宿題をしないで、テレビを見てばかりいる。
(Shukudai o shinaide, terebi o mite bakari iru.) 
All he does is watch TV all day and doesn’t do his homework.  

Plain Form Verb + ばかり: All I/You Do Is ~ 

The dictionary (plain) form of a verb + ばかり (bakari) has two different usages. The first usages will translate to “all I do” or “all I can do.” The second usages will give it a meaning of “there is nothing but” or “all I need to do.” 

It means that you did everything necessary, and I now can only do is [verb].

1. 今は祈るばかりだ。
(Ima wa inoru bakari da.
At this stage, all I can do is pray.

2. 食事の準備は終わった。あとは友達が集まるのを待つばかりだ。
(Shokuji no junbi wa owatta. Ato wa tomodachi ga atsumaru no o matsu bakari da.)  
I’ve finished preparing the meal. All I need to do now is wait for my friends to get together.

This grammar structure indicates that since I have done everything in my power or everything that I can do at the best of my ability, the result of the action is out of my control, and all I can do is [verb]. 

Number + Counter + ばかり: About, Approximately

When bakari is used right after a number and counter, it indicates an estimate. It is used with distance, time, objects, people, or anything countable. Just remember that you need to use a counter. You can’t use bakari with just a number.  

○ ペンが 10本ばかりあります。(Pen ga juppon arimasu.) There are about 10 pens.  

✖︎ ペンが10ばかりあります。(Pen ga juu bakari arimasu.)  ?

Bakari needs to follow a counter. This sentence follows the number 十 (juu = 10), so it is incorrect.   

Examples of Nouns With A Counter + ばかり:

1. 最寄りの薬局は5キロばかり先です。
(Moyori no yakkyoku wa 5 kiro bakari saki desu.
The closest pharmacy is about 5 kilometers away.

2. 彼女は毎日たばこを10本ばかり吸っている。
(Kanojo wa mainichi tabako o juppon bakari sutteiru.
She smokes about 10 cigarettes a day.

3. コンサートに150人ばかり参加してくれました。
(Konsaato ni hyaku gojuu nin bakari sanka shite kuremashita.) 
Around 150 people participated in the concert.

Other Uses of Bakari: 

Here are some other uses of bakari that are not as common as the others on this list, but still useful to know.

ばかりに (Bakari Ni): Just Because

Verb/Noun/Adj + ばかりに means “just because” and it is used to explain why something negative happened.

*Note: Remember that in the case of -na adjectives, you must include the な (na) when using bakari.  

Example: Noun + ばかりに

  1. 一瞬の不注意ばかりに事故が起きた。
    (Isshun no fuchuui bakari ni jiko ga okita.
    Just because I lost attention for a second, an accident occurred.

Example: I-Adjective + ばかりに

  1. お金がないばかりに友達と卒業旅行に行けなかった。
    (Okane ga nai bakari ni, tomodachi to sotsugyou ryokou ni ikenakatta.).
    I couldn’t go on a graduation trip with my friends just because I don’t have any money.

Example” Na-Adjective + ばかりに

  1. 彼女は綺麗なばかりに、職場の同僚の女性たちに嫌われているようです。
    (Kanojo wa kirei na bakari ni, shokuba no douryou no joseitachi ni kirawareteiru you desu.)
    Just because she is pretty, it seems that the female co-workers at her workplace don’t like her.  

Plain Form Verb/Noun/Adjective + とばかりに: As If To Say ~

Plain Form Verb/Noun/Adjective + とばかりに expresses an action that appears to be conveying some sort of emotion or feeling. What the heck does that mean?  

In English, とばかりに can be translated, “as if to say.” Imagine a guy trying to get a woman’s phone number at a bar, but she keeps looking away from him.  

“She kept looking away from him as if to say she wanted him to go away.”

Or maybe you ask your friend to read over your essay.

彼はだめだとばかりに首を横に振った。
(Kare wa dame da to bakari ni kubi o yoko ni futta.) 
He shook his head as if to say it was not good.

**Note: If you do use a noun or na-adjective, you must insert a だ (da) before the とばかり.

Example: Noun + とばかり

彼は自分がチームのリーダーだとばかりに同僚に指示を出した。
(Kare wa jibun ga chiimu no riidaa da to bakari ni douryou ni shiji o dashita.)
He gave his co-workers instructions as if to say he is the team leader.

Example: Na-adjective + とばかり

田中さんは部長のことが嫌いだとばかりに飲み会ではいつも離れた席に座る。
(Tanaka sa wa buchou no koto ga kirai da to bakari ni nomikai de wa itsumo hanareta seki ni suwaru.)
Tanaka san always sits away from the manager at our nomikai as if to say she doesn’t like him.

Plain Form Verb/Noun/Adjective +と言わんばかりに: As Though ~ | As If ~

This pattern is virtually identical to the previous とばかりに above. In fact, you could use either phrase interchangeably to mean the same thing. The と言わんばかりに (to iwan bakari ni) comes from ancient Japanese that carried over until today.  

At first glance, the 言わん looks like it would be the casual negative form for 言う (to speak). However, this 言わん is actually the old Japanese volitional form (言おう in modern Japanese). This older Japanese form is still being used today.

Taking the example from above, if we replace “to bakari ni” with “to iwan bakari ni,” the meaning of the sentence will remain the same.  

彼はだめだと言わんばかりに首を横に振った。
(Kare wa dame da to iwan bakari ni kubi o yoko ni futta.) 
He shook his head as if to say it was not good.

If they both mean the same thing, which one is better? Both of these expressions are not used very often, but とばかりに would be considered the more casual expression of the two. You could use both if you were writing academic like essays or literature, but と言わんばかりに does have a more formal feel to it.  

Bakka and Bakari

Bakka and bakkari are the colloquial versions of bakari, but the grammar patterns and usage are the same. If you’re talking to a friend, you can substitute bakari with bakka or bakkari to sound more natural.

1. またゲームやってんの? さっき10時間もやったばっかじゃん! 
(Mata ge-mu yatten no? Sakki Juu-jikan mo yatta bakka jan!
Are you playing video games again? You just finished playing for 10 hours, right?!

2. 宿題をしないで、テレビを見てばっかりいる。
(Shukudai o shinaide, terebi o mite bakkari iru.) 
All he does is watch TV all day without doing his homework.  

Conclusion 

Bakari is a composite grammar form but let’s look at the bright side. Bakari is easy to recognize! 

When you see or hear the word bakari in a sentence, think about: 

  1. Which verb form is used (present tense? Past tense? 〜teiru form?) ;
  2. Is it connected to a noun? What noun is it?
  3. Analyze the context

Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Send this to a friend