Help with だけしか grammar point

Greetings fellow students!

I am having the biggest trouble understanding the だけしか grammar point (だけしか - Japanese Grammar Explained | Bunpro).

Here’s what is making me confused:

  1. 彼は野菜だけしか食べれません。
    He can only eat vegetables.

  2. 土曜日だけしか忙がしくないから、出来たら土曜日がいい。
    Only Saturdays aren’t busy, so if possible Saturday is preferable.

On the second sentence why is the meaning not “Only Saturdays are busy?” is it because because the second part of the sentence (出来たら土曜日がいい) makes it clear that Saturdays are NOT busy? Would the meaning change if the sentence was only “土曜日だけしか忙がしくない”?

Thanks for the help!

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That would be “Are only Saturdays busy?”

The “?” was not part of the japanese sentence, it was part of the english sentence, sorry for the confusion :P. what would be the meaning of:


As it is stated in the explanation, だけ removes one thing from a group (in this case the days of the week), and presents it as the only thing that fits a certain criteria (忙しくない). Furthermore, しか highlights something by itself as not having any alternatives. Therefore, it functions to simply emphasize the だけ part even more. So the phrase 土曜日だけしか忙しくない would have a more literal translation of “I’m not busy on Saturday(s) and Saturday(s) only.”

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Someone in the discussion post for だけしか mentioned that they brought these examples up to Japanese natives and seemed to imply that the natives thought this structure could technically be interpreted both ways (although apparently their assumptions were also that it was initially “Only Saturdays are busy…”.

I couldn’t find any information on this pattern having multiple interpretations/ambiguity anywhere though. I’m wondering how natural those 3 examples on the explanation page are…


Honestly the more I think about it, I feel like Bunpro is just wrong here with these translations or defining things poorly. This translation would make sense if it was only “土曜日だけ” that was being negated, but the Japanese definition of しか is that everything EXCEPT the thing in question is negated. i.e., Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Sunday are NOT busy for the speaker. The だけ part only serves to limit the scope of what is excepted (Saturday and only Saturday)


Thanks for the replies! And today I learned that there is a discussion for each grammar point. Glad I am not the one confused.

Yeah it seems you’re right; I posted the question on HiNative and they said the same thing: 「彼は土曜日だけしか忙しくない」 以上の文はどいう意味していますか? 彼は土曜日だけ忙しくないか、それとも彼は土曜日以外忙しくないか、よく分かりません。(›´-`‹ ) | HiNative


That’s good to know! This was genuinely driving me crazy trying to figure out if it was possible or not lol. Hopefully someone from Bunpro can weigh in and adjust those example sentences.


Hey there,

土曜日だけしか忙がしくない, could technically be taken both ways, and it depends on how the speaker says it or the nuance of the sentence. However, this sentence does sound confusing so we have decided to tweak the sentence a little bit by adding extra information in the second half of the sentence to clear up the nuance and by changing the translation to say, 土曜日だけしか忙しくないから、出来たら土曜日じゃないないほうがいい。(I am not busy except for Saturdays, so if possible it would be better if it wasn’t a Saturday).


Could you elaborate on this a bit more? Is it a colloquial thing, like certain double negative structures in English (ain’t not, etc.)

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From my understanding it goes something like this:

  1. 土曜日だけしか忙がしくない - I’m only busy on Saturdays.

In this interpretation, the emphasis is placed on “土曜日だけ”, suggesting that the speaker is busy exclusively on Saturdays, and not on other days.

  1. 土曜日だけしか忙しくない - I’m not busy except for Saturdays.

In this interpretation, the emphasis is placed on “忙しくない”, suggesting that the speaker is not busy on any other day, except for Saturdays.

edit: I could be totally wrong but it reminds me of sentences in English like:

  • I didn’t write the letter. (Someone else did)
  • I didn’t write the letter. (I merely dictated it)
  • I didn’t write the letter. (But I did write something else)

Ah, yeah I can see how that might make sense and why it would be difficult to translate into plain text. In other words, it’s basically like saying:
「土曜日だけしか(ない)、忙しくない。 」 (where the negated part of しか would technically be omitted and thus しか is only serving to emphasize only Saturday — “(nothing but ) just Saturday is not busy” )


This is pretty much exactly right, in addition to the way だけしか is worded itself being a little bit tricky. When discussing it amongst the team, I likened it to a sentence like ‘Only except for Saturdays am I not busy’. Even for a native English speaker that is quite hard to parse upon first glance unless you already know what the person is trying to say.


Man, I remember running into this one some time ago and being confused as hell. I simply ignored that sentence, given the others made sense.

Anyway, thanks for asking this question OT. Now I know that my intuition was correct that there was simply something weird with that sentence (I should’ve asked about it, like you did, though).


Thank you all for the clarifications!