I am studying 常用漢字 and I ran across the following meanings:

只得 只好 只有

All of which were translated with the same English meaning "can do nothing." What was not given is the context in which one would use one or the other of these phrases. Could someone explain when it is good to use one versus the other?

3 Answers 3


Let me bring you another point here. It is also common that 只 is used to decorate a verb ( 得, 好, 有 ). When this case happens, you can NOT use these three words interchangeably. For example,

  1. 我只得一百块钱: I only earn 100 rmb.
  2. 我只有一个儿子: I only have one son.
  3. 我只好(4th tone)这一口: I only like this ( often means some drink or food )

You might see similar usages like

  1. 我只买了顶帽子: I only buy a hat.
  2. 我只会睡觉: I only know how to sleep.
  3. 我只睡了3个钟头: I only sleep for 3 hours.
  4. 我只卖手机: I only sell cell phones.
  5. 我只告诉你: I only tell you ( this secret ).

只得, [be obliged to;have to;have no alternative but to] 别无选择,不得不

我们只得照要求的做了。 Source: http://baike.baidu.com/view/4174590.htm

只好 [be forced to;have to;the only alternative is to] 只有;只能. It is a little less formal than 只得. 河上没有桥,我们只好涉水过去

Source: http://baike.baidu.com/view/163453.htm

只有: only. 邮局离这儿只有几步路。

only when (when followed by 才), to indicate a necessary condition. 只有依靠群众,才能做好普查工作. Source: http://baike.baidu.com/view/199454.htm


When expressing the meaning "can do nothing but", I think there is not much difference among those three words.




Personally I think they are basically the same. Note that in "只好", the character "好" means "能" (can, able), i.e. "只好" is "只能".

By the way, "只有" has other meanings than "can do nothing but", like "there's only" and "only have".

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