I'm struggling to interpret the sentence 我只和他打篮球 into English. Is it "I only play basketball with him" or "I play basketball only with him"? Or both ok?

Any ideas?

  • 2
    Theoretically, this sentence is ambiguous and can mean both.
    – fefe
    Sep 29, 2020 at 4:05
  • The only way the sentence could be made crystal clear is to know what the question was as the sentence in question is really an answer to a question. Without the question, both, or more, meanings could be hypothetically correct. Sep 29, 2020 at 14:42

3 Answers 3


It has obscure meanings, and we should relate the sentence with specific occasion to understand it.

For example, in this sentence: "我只和他打篮球, 我不和别人打篮球". It can be translated into "I play basketball only with him, but no one else".

But in another example: "我只和他打篮球, 我不和他打羽毛球". It can be understood as: I only play basketball with him, and I don't play badminton with him.

Besides, How we segment and stress the the words, or punctuation can also influence our understanding of the sentence. If we stress on 他, which is 我只和(他) 打篮球, then it is "I play basketball only with HIM". and if we stress on 打篮球, then it is "I only PLAY BASKETBALL with him"


我只和他打篮球。 I play basketball only with him. or else I don't play at all. 我和他只打篮球。 With him, I (/we) only play basketball, no worry, we don't go to bed together.

Let me remind all of you: 只 doesn't me "only" only. Scene: A girl caught her friend being together with her boyfriend and questioned her friend. The friend reply: 我只和他打篮球。 Do you still use "only". I think "just" is much better. Of course 我只是和他打篮球 is better but even than the translation would be "just".


If "only" means "exclusively" then both "I only play basketball with him" and "I play basketball only with him" means "我只(会)和他打篮球". Meaning he is the only person who I (would) play basketball with.

If "only" means "merely" then the phrase should be "我(只是)和他打篮球".

'只是' is never reduced to '只'

  • so, are you suggesting both "I only play basketball with him" and "I play basketball only with him" mean the same?
    – dan
    Sep 28, 2020 at 23:12
  • 1
    Yes, it is similar to "I play basketball [exclusively with him]" = I play basketball [ with him exclusively]"
    – Tang Ho
    Sep 28, 2020 at 23:27
  • How do you say "I play basketball with him, not other games"? The Chinese sentence 我只和他打篮球 can mean both based on the tone emphasis. I thought "I only play basketball with him" means I only play basketball, not other games, with him, and "I play basketball only with him" means I play basketball, only with him, not other people.
    – dan
    Sep 29, 2020 at 0:03
  • How about 我和他只打篮球
    – Tang Ho
    Sep 29, 2020 at 0:15
  • I meant in English. I know Chinese.
    – dan
    Sep 29, 2020 at 0:56

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