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.

up vote 3 down vote accepted

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.

UPDATE 1

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 at 9:07
  • Also, thanks for the very thorough answer, I wish I could give you more points :) – A O Feb 23 at 9:10
  • @AO I see, so it’s user-generated contents so it may contain errors… – ChenZheChina Feb 24 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'

"汉英虚词词典"

(副词)同"只"A,B.C,D,限制范围或数量:
1。不但我自己的,便是子君的言语举动,我那时就没有看得分明,~知道她已经允许我了。(鲁迅[伤逝])
2。为了~能糊口的月薪,男人们在舞台上象疯子一样发神经,女人们以卖弄风骚博得喝彩。(徐怀中[我们播种爱情])
3。这~是猜测,不足为据。(茹志鹃[剪辑错了的故事])
4。~就他们没有呼唤彼此的姓名这一点来看,就是见这绝非同学之间的那种别而相逢。(徐怀中[我们播种爱情])
5。沟沟岸。。。人口处形势险峻,两山对峙,其间距~十数米。(戴妆潜[沟崖漫话])

仅仅(副词)同"仅",但口气更重。
1。要有同志式的批评,探讨,论战。~给以暴露,是不够的。(王蒙[生活、倾向、辩证法和文学])
2。他想起了正歧利剪刀铺子的东家,~因为他看了一场戏,就把他辞退了。(欧阳山[三家巷])

3。看来,他们不~是平平常常的同学。(徐怀中[我们播种爱情])
4。不~我一个人对他的工作深切地关心着;数不清的不相识的普通人们,也都关心他的工作。(鄂华[自由神的命运])
5。她离家~一天的时间,这里又发生变化。(李惠薪[活寡])
6。河~离城门有一里来地,可是河岸上极清静,连个走路的人也没有。(老舍[四世同堂])

7。这~是一霎间的事。(杨沫[青春之歌])

(副词)表示限制。
A只限于某种动作:
1。他什么不说,而~这么愣着。(老舍[四世同堂])
2。她伸头想看看我手上的账本,又不好意思走近,~远远地瞟瞟。(吴晨笳[姐妹])
3。我~觉得雨下太多了。(艾芜[雨])
参看"只是"
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:
1.周炳留心听着他父亲的回答,可是什么回答也没有,~听见他父亲时不时用手轻轻拍打着蚊子。(欧阳山[三家巷])
2。一个月~省出五百块钱左右。(曹禺[日出])
3。实际这里已经看不出什么阵地,~看见密密麻麻相联结的巨大弹坑(刘白习[在朝鲜的第一夜)

4。他骨瘦如柴,~穿着一条夹裤和一件败色的旧薄棉袍。(曹禺[日出])
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:
1.这话也~在你我之间说说。(火笛[在茶馆里])
2。她在里边房里做她熟手的熔烘工作,~偶尔偷空从人缝中悄悄朝炒茶机这边看看。(吴辰笳[姐妹])
3。老实说,这个药方,跟二表姐不大好谈的,~能跟你谈。(欧阳山[三家巷])
4。在浑源~住了两个月,他就回美国了。(张扬[第二次握手])
5。我~在那儿粗略地看了一遍,没有细刨。(王汶石[黑风])
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:
1。他们一个住豹子沟,一个住南梁子,相隔~三四里地。(欧阳山[高干大])
2。我们~三个人,当然还可以容你。(叶圣陶[潘先生在难中])
3。他才觉着世界上~小常是第一个好人,可是只认识了一天就又不在了。(赵树理[李家庄的变迁])
4。我望了又望,望来望去就~她一个人,又烧火,又摇机,忙的两脚不沾灰。(吴晨笳[姐妹])

5。这些都没有什么,困难的是~我一个人。(曹平[三月雪])
参看"仅"。
E
"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:
1。我给的~多不少。(有可能超过需要的,不会不足)
2。那双鞋你穿~大不小。(有可能大,不会小)
3。虽然遇到了困难,大家的干劲却~增不减。(有可能增加,不会减少)
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;
1。从前面望进去,~见一般的黑暗。(叶圣陶[外国旗])
2。~见那窗前的垂柳,迎着凛冽的寒风,看不到店堂上的货物。(陈登科[风雪])
3。爬上山顶,~见山下茫茫一片草原到处点缀着五彩缤纷的野花。
4。他的眼前~见白茫茫的一天大雾。(叶圣陶[一个练习生])

"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)这个月我仅/只剩下二百元了。

(2)我们班仅/只有五个男生。

(3)这个教室仅/只能坐下二十个人。(4)今天的作业我仅仅/*只只用了一个小时就做完了。

(5)黄河是中国的第二大河,仅/*只次于长江。

[错句]

(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。)

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