Japanese expression: だけあって (dake atte)

By | March 10, 2021

In this article I’d like to go over the Japanese expression “dake atte” (だけあって), particularly because the meaning is not quite what you expect given the words comprising it. But first let’s look at those words as a starting point.

だけ (dake) is probably a word you’ve come across before, and many times it is taught as meaning “only”. While this is one of its usages, “dake” can also mean a few other things such as “to the extent of”, similar to the wordsくらい and ぐらい. That’s why there are other ways of expressing “only” in a more straightforward way (“nomi”, “shika … nai”, “~ni suginai”, etc.)

あって (atte) here is the te-form of the verb ある (aru), used to express the existence of non-living things (and sometimes living things). The te-form has a variety of uses, but here can be understood as connecting to something else in the sentence, in the sense of “… exists and …”. When thinking about the verb “aru” and it’s conjugations, it’s good to remember that in English we often just use verbs such as “is” and “are” to express basic existence (ex: “The chair is in the room.”)

Now I’ll show you an example of this expression in action to see if you can guess the meaning from context:

  • 日本だけあって、町中のどんな料理でも美味しかった (nihon dake atte, machijuu no donna ryouri demo oishkatta)

In this sentence we see some connection between Japan and all the food throughout the city being tasty, but what sort of connection?

It turns out that だけあって is a special expression that shows that the speaker had expectations about something which were fulfilled, and may have even been impressed by the result. This usage is generally used in a positive sense, sometimes (like in the above sentence) as a compliment. By the way, the word さすが (sasuga) has a similar nuance, and this word can even be used together in the same sentence.

Given that, here’s one way to translate our example sentence:

  • Just as I expected for Japan, all the food throughout their cities was delicious.

Here’s another way that feels a bit more natural to me:

  • As you might expect for Japan, all the food throughout their cities was delicious.

In the above sentence だけあって followed a noun (日本), but it can also follow a verb (dictionary form, te-iru form, past form, etc.). For example,

  • さすがキントレしてるだけあって、筋肉大きいね (sasuga kintore shiteru dake atte, kinniku ookii ne)
  • You sure have big muscles, not surprising given you are doing weight training.

For a na-adjective, as you might expect (sasuga!) we use a “na” before “dake atte”.

Now if you go back to the meanings of “dake” and “atte” I gave above, you’ll probably see that it is difficult to understand how this was derived. It turns out if you look in JP/JP and JP/EN dictionaries, you will find a separate entry for this usage of “dake”. For this entry, my JP/JP dictionary says:

  • 物事の状態がそれにふさわしいという気持ちを表す
  • Expresses a feeling that the state of something is appropriate to that thing.

While this still sounds a bit cryptic, if you think about it, this definition matches up pretty well with our examples. For example, tasty food in Japan is appropriate to Japan, or big muscles is appropriate to someone who lifts weights.

Another way to get a feeling for だけあって is to consider it as a shortening of the expression だけのことあって, which effectively means the same thing. This latter expression makes a little more sense when interpreted literally (“… and there is a thing appropriate to …”)

As I was researching this expression I came across another complexity that I wanted to mention. I have seen many instances of using both “noun + だけあって” and “noun + だけあって”. The “na” variant seems to be more used in formal settings (like a textbook or webpage focusing on grammar), whereas the other is used in less formal settings (I have seen it in personal emails before). I think you can use either, but I personally prefer the “na-less” form (ex: 日本だけあって). 

You can also use だけある for a similar meaning when the “state” in question is clear from context. For example, if somebody says the quality of a certain expensive product is great, you could say:

  • 高いだけあるね (takai dake aru ne)
  • That’s no surprise considering the price.

By the way, だけに (dake ni) is another expression that means mostly the same thing as だけあって. Let’s see what our muscle example would look like with it:

  • さすがキントレしてるだけに、筋肉大きいね (sasuga kintore shiteru dake ni, kinniku ookii ne)

だけに feels a bit more formal/stiff than だけあって, and I would prefer the latter when trying to express the examples above, mainly because I see だけあって used more commonly. Also, だけに has a few other meanings not shared with だけあって, for example expressing how someone cannot perform an action that would betray certain expectations. If you want to read more about だけあって and だけに in Japanese, this page has a good writeup on these two words, and this page has some other nuances about this pair.

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