Sunday, July 1, 2007

Japanese Grammar: Tokoro vs. Bakari

I am taking two* Japanese courses at the Japan-America Society of Washington, DC (JASWDC). In both classes, we use the Genki II textbook. Last week, we were doing an exercise with pictures and making sentences with みたい, a word that you append to the end of a plain-form verb to add the meaning of "seems like." I saw a picture of a woman with a big smile and rays shining off of her ring, kind of like this picture from mfshadow's Flickr stream on the left.

When I saw this kind of a picture, I thought, it looks like she just got engaged. But then I realized that, in the textbook, the ring looked more like a wedding ring than an engagement ring. So I said:

She seems like she's just gotten married.

So, first, let's look at ところ. ところ doesn't mean place, here, but it sets the action of the verb in a limited location. In other words, adding tokoro means either "just about to do something" or "just did something."

食べるところ - just about to eat (in a few minutes)
食べたところ - just ate (finished eating a few seconds/minutes ago)

With the progressive form, ところ emphasizes the action being incomplete.

食べているところ - I'm still eating just now (I can't talk, go out, etc., because I'm in the middle of eating).

The teacher explained that 結婚したところみたい is incorrect. In the picture, she didn't have a wedding dress on, so she didn't just literally get married a few minutes ago. Therefore, I should use ばかり if I want a looser interpretation of "just."

正: 結婚したばかりみたいです。
   She seems like she just (recently) got married.

ばかり can have many meanings. It can mean "only," as in limiting to one kind of thing, but a lot of it:

If you only eat sweets, you'll get sick.

But when you put ばかり on the end of a plain-past verb, the meaning is totally different.

I only just arrived in Japan three months ago

Though three months have passed, it still feels like a short time. ばかり connotes this feeling of recentness, along with an emotional perception of that short time. ところ would not make sense. My teacher contrasted this with this sentence:

I'm at the airport now... I just arrived, so could you pick me up?

ところ is objective and measurable; the speaker really just arrived within the past few minutes. Note that you could use ばかり with the airport example, too, I think.

My teacher showed me another case where both are technically and grammatically acceptable, but one is preferable due to politeness. Imagine that you've been offered some coffee, but you don't want any because you just had some. Which do you use?


The answer is ところ. As explained above, you can use ばかり with a 3-month time period because it feels short to you. Therefore, ばかり emphasizes your personal feeling. In coffee refusal, it's more polite to be objective and say ところ.

A common word associated with ところ is たった今 (just now).
ばかり gets used with まだ a lot:


Both words are often used with さっき and さいきん.

For a lesson on ところ and ばかり, go to this early Intermediate lesson.
*I'm taking Intermediate 3 and Intermediate 4. Yes, this is crazy. It's also why I haven't been keeping up with my mainichi posts.