Specific sentence: ばかり vs だけ



I have a question about a grammar point. It is about a sentence coming from an exercise in the 新完全マスターN2 文法.

Here it is:

最近、失敗 _ をしているので気分が晴れない。少し休暇を取ろう。

To fill the gap, I have four possible answers: だけ、ばかり、に限って、の限りを.

The two last answers obviously can’t match here. But it seems to me, that だけ, and ばかり, can either be okay. I checked the answers sheet and the good one is: ばかり.

In general, I have no problem when differentiating だけ from ばかり. But in this specific context, I don’t understand why ばかり should match and not だけ.

“Recently, I am only failing/I am doing only failure …”

There must be a very subtle reason here… Is it because of the personal involvement of the speaker or something like that? Any ideas ?


The grammar dictionary says that ばかり stresses that it’s only much more than だけ does, “often with the implication that someone/something does [the thing] a lot or more than one expects”.

I confess I’m not sure that greatly helps explain why ばかり is more correct than だけ, though.


I’m pretty sure this is probably the “nothing but” nuance of ばかり.

だけ is more of a neutral only.

It sounds harsher than だけ

だけ wouldn’t be grammatically incorrect, but ばかり is the best choice.


In this case, its more like

“just keep on failing”

In the case of だけ it would be more like “i only fail”

I think the “just” is important, like “lately all I do is fail”, it has a kind of negative feeling, like “しまう” means “complete” but its mainly used for when something doesn’t go right compared to the more “neutral て切る”


Lately I’ve done nothing but eat sweets, I’m going to get fat.


Lately Ive only been eating sweets, Im going to get fat!

**In this case my example sentence ended up feeling quite feminine…


So it is all a matter of nuance.

Indeed だけ is neutral, whereas ばかり is emphasizing the preceding noun. That explains why ばかり is more suitable as the speaker is complaining about his recent failures.

Thank you all for answering.