Is there additional context, in which one is used in a specific situation as opposed to the other?

I'm used to only hearing 只 for "only", but when I was using a Chinese learning app, it told me that 仅 or 仅仅 was the more common translation.

4 Answers 4


I’m not professional linguist in Mandarin Chinese, but a native speaker to it. So I can only give you some examples and share some of my own opinions about 只 and 仅.

First, for the sentence above, it is translated to native Mandarin Chinese using 只, as in “我只能给你举一些例子,以及分享一点我个人关于只和仅的看法”.

Second, in my opinion, 只 is used in more situations, as in:

  • Only you can save us. → 只有你才能拯救我们。
  • That is only an excuse. → 那是个借口。
  • Garbage is collected only on Mondays. → 垃圾有星期一收。
  • Using 只 only is often not enough by itself. → 单单用“只”通常是不够的。

You could have notice that, to make it a native expression, using 只 only is often not enough. There are many other expressions that used usually together with 只, such as 只有,只……才,只有……才. That’s beyond this question and may be answered separately in another thread.

Third, on the other hand, 仅 is used much less, and usually in fixed phrases like 仅限, 仅仅.

仅限 can usually be used when translating only for.

  • Only for PlayStation → 仅限用于 PlayStation

In the case above, it is not good to use 只.

Single 仅 or double 仅仅 is usually used when talking about quantity. Let’s see examples below:

  • This project was done in only 3 days. → 仅仅三天,这个工程完工了。
  • This project was done in only 3 days. → 用了三天,这个工程完工了。
  • This project was done in only 3 days. → 这个工程完工用三天。
  • This project was done in only 3 days. → 这个工程完工用了三天。

These are all correct ways to say the same thing. However, 仅仅 is much less colloquial and more formal. As you could see, if you use 只 instead of 仅, 了 must be added after 用 to make it more colloquial and therefore more native.

Finally, do not use 仅 or 仅仅 in colloquial situations. Let’s review the examples for only:

  • I can only give you some examples. → 我只能给你举一些例子。(OK but not native. 只能 is much more common than 仅能)
  • Only you can save us. → 只有你才能拯救我们。(DO NOT USE 仅)
  • That is only an excuse. → 那是个借口。(OK but not native. 只是 is much more common than 仅是)
  • Garbage is collected only on Mondays. → 垃圾星期一收。(OK but sounds very formal. Maybe you can see it on a notice, but do not expect it to be heard when speaking)
  • Using 只 only is often not enough by itself. → 用“只”通常是不够的。(Sounds OK but you have to remove by itself because that word is too colloquial and do not match 仅 at all)

That’s all. Hope that helps.


You said that your Chinese learning app told you that 仅 or 仅仅 was the more common translation. Maybe it is correct when translating written things, such as forms, manuals and warnings. I wonder if you can show me your app and let me check how it says exactly?

  • The app is Brainscape's Mandarin slides, it just is flash cards, (human curated) It feels like it's Chinese people who learned English, so sometimes their translations aren't very good. In this case, the English word/phrase was just "Only"
    – A O
    Feb 23, 2018 at 9:07
  • Also, thanks for the very thorough answer, I wish I could give you more points :)
    – A O
    Feb 23, 2018 at 9:10
  • @AO I see, so it’s user-generated contents so it may contain errors… Feb 24, 2018 at 12:14

Sorting by level of formality: 仅仅 > 仅 > 只。 The more formal the variation is used, the stronger the tone is, and the more severity of limitations it convey.

仅 and 仅仅 are more formal in written contexts. In contrast 只 is more common in daily use. E.g. 我只吃了一个面包。(Weird: 我吃了一个面包。)

Moreover, you can use 仅仅只 together to emphasis the extremity of the limitation. In this case, 仅仅 is used as a modifier to 只. E.g. 仅仅只用了一天,大楼就建成了。(So quick it is.)

In addition, another substitution to 只/仅仅 is 才。When used for emphasizing the limitations, 才 will implicitly convey a mood of surprise. E.g. 用了一天,大楼就建成了。(How did they even make it!)

  • In English, we can use 'only' to express 'merely'

For example: "Three days hotel only cost $250"

In Chinese, this phrase can be translated to "三天酒店需 250美元"

However, if you want to emphasize the fact that it is "merely $250", you can use 仅 instead of 只 and write "三天酒店需 250 美元" (Three days hotel merely cost $250)

  • In English, we can use 'only' to express 'solely/ just'

For example: "only he came to the rescue"

In Chinese, this phrase can be translated to "只得他来救援"

However, if you want to emphasize the fact that it is "just him", you can use 仅 instead of 只 and write "仅得他来救援" (Just he came to the rescue )

  • 仅 can also express "barely" while 只 (only) cannot

Example: 仅胜 (barely win); 他的步伐仅比蜗牛快 (his pace is barely faster than a snail)

"他的步伐只比蜗牛快" implies his pace is only faster than a snail and nothing else, which lack the emphasis of 'barely'







B所限制的是动词的宾语,但"只"也必须用于动词前:The restriction refers to the object of a verb,but 只 must also occur before the verb:

C所限制的是状语或补语或二者;如所限制的是状语,则"只"必用于状语前,如是补语,"只"不能用在补语前,则仍在动词前:The restriction refers to the adverbial or the complement or both.If it refers to the adverbial,只 must precede it and if it's the complement,只cannot precede the complement but must precede the verb:
D "只"可直接用在数量短语前,或名词、代词(有时加数量短语)前,意思是"只有",而"有"被省略:

"只"和"不"构成四字短语,嵌入意义相反的两个单音节形容词或动词。重点在"只"后的形容词或动词:只 and 不 are separately inserted before two monosyllabic adjectives or verbs opposite in meaning to form a four-character phrase. In such a case, the stress is laid on the adjective or verb which comes after 只:
F"只见"常用于描述从某人眼中见到的景物,"只"已无实际的意思:只见 is used to describe the sights which reach the eyes, and 只 has no actual meaning;

"汉语800虚词词典"[比较]仅 只 "仅" 用于书面,"只"口语,书面都用;"仅"可以重叠使用,"只"不能重叠。






(1)*这本书里只是有一些没意思的故事,我不喜欢。 (要说:这本书里净是一些没意思的故事,我不喜欢。)

(2)*你别只说很多没有用的话,得帮我想个办法呀。 (要说:你别净说一些没有用的话,得帮我想个办法呀。)

(3)*这个月只有电话费我花了一千多块。 (要说:这个月光电话费我就花了一千多块。)

(4)*院子里停着只一辆汽车。 (要说:院子里只停着一辆汽车。)

(5)*他得了很严重的病,大夫说他可以只活几个月。 (要说:他得了很重的病,大夫说他只能活几个月。)

  • looks a lot easier to read +1.
    – Mou某
    Feb 25, 2018 at 4:55

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