Recently I received a question from a reader about the meaning of だけで (dake de) so I thought I would write a post about that phrase.
This phrase is made up of two common Japanese particles: だけ and で. The first of these, だけ, has several meanings but is most often used to mean “only”. The particle で has several meanings as well, but the most common is to express the place an action took place (at school), or the means with which something was done (by bus, with a tool, etc.).
So let’s take a sample sentence that uses で and then see how it changes when we add だけ to it. It’s important to note that the だけ is always first, you will never see でだけ.
- アニメで日本語を勉強しています。 (anime de nihongo o benkyou shite imasu)
- I am studying Japanese using anime.
If we add だけ before the で particle, we end up with:
- アニメだけで日本語を勉強しています。 (anime dake de nihongo o benkyou shite imasu)
- I am studying Japanese using only anime.
The meaning here is simply a combination of the だけ and the で particles, which is that an action is being performed with only something.
If you want to express a negative result, then generally you should use the particle は (wa) after だけで. For example:
- バスだけでは日本に行けません (basu dake de wa nihon ni ikemasen).
- You can’t go to Japan using only a bus.
In cases like this だけでは can be abbreviated to だけじゃ (dake ja). You can see more about では in this post.
Another place you may have seen では or じゃ is in the phrases ではない or じゃない, which mean “is/are not” (more on these words here). You can add だけ to these phrases to express that there is “not just” something.
- 話せるのは英語だけじゃない。 (hanaseru no wa eigo dake ja nai)
- I can speak more than just English (literally: “What I can speak is not just English).
This pattern is often used with じゃない in the “te” form:
- 今日だけじゃなくて昨日も雨が降った (kyou dake ja nakute kinou mo ame ga futta)
- It rained not just today, but also yesterday.
When used together some form of いい (ii), で can used to express permission, or something being sufficient. For example, if someone asked you what you wanted to drink you could answer with:
- 水でいい (mizu de ii)
- Water is fine.
If you want to emphasize that something by itself is sufficient, you can add だけ:
- 水だけでいい (mizu dake de ii)
- Just water is fine.
Generally だけ adds to the meaning already set by で, but there is at least one case where だけ enables a different grammatical pattern that で can’t do on its own. That is when だけで is used after a verb in order to mean “just by doing ~”. Let’s see an example:
- 運動するだけで痩せた （undou suru dake de yaseta)
- (I) lost wait just by exercising.
There is one more meaning for だけで. That’s when the で can be interpreted as the “te” form of “da”, meaning essentially “is/are … and…”. It’s similar to how “te” form verbs can be used to express a sequence of actions (see this post for details).
When だけ is added to で for this scenario, we end up with saying “(something) is/are only (something), and…”. Let’s look at an example:
- 履いてるのはサンダルだけで、走れない (haiteru no wa sandaru dake de, hashirenai)
- The only thing I’m wearing (on my feet) is sandals, and I can’t run.