I was asked a great question recently by alliance member Nayr about what to do when you just quite don’t understand why a sentence is the way it is. You understand all the parts of the sentence, but just can’t grasp the whole. I’ve been asked similar questions like this before, so I thought this answer might provide some guidance to all those who may feel the same way sometimes.
What do you do in situations where you can read every word in a given sentence, you can even understand the grammar as it has been used in previous cards, but for some reason the sentence meaning just doesn’t make sense to you? For example:
Now I have already learned that しか when following a number gives the sense of “only that many”.
And I already knew 貰える is a potential verb, giving the sense of “can do” “the ability to do” “possible” etc.
So when I looked at this sentence and saw “貰えませんでした” I read “Could not get”. And then I look “１個しか” I read “as few as one” or “only one”.
So when I read the complete sentence, I struggle to see how this sentence does not mean “I could not even get one.”
The only reason I know it doesn’t say this is because of the English in the textbook says “I could only get one.” The textbook doesn’t give anymore explanation about it.
How can someone progress from here? Do you just remember what it says without understanding why?
I know you say not to ask why, and always ask how or what, but there will always be a voice inside my head saying “WHY??”
To me “I could only get one.” should be ”僕は１個しか貰えました。” Of course I know this is wrong… but I don’t know why it is wrong…
When this happens in J-J, how will I even know when I am wrong to start with?
What happens with grammar like this, is that when you first see it and its explanation, it may not make full sense. It’s kind of like you are missing a small piece in the puzzle. So sometimes in some Anki cards, you may misinterpret a meaning.
This is completely common. It has happened to me in the past many times.
Let’s assume you learned the above sentence and you didn’t have the English translated sentence. You read the sentence, and learned it as “I could not even get one” incorrectly. Remember, when you get to J-J, you won’t have an English translation to check it on.
Sounds bad? Well what do you think will happen the first time you hear it in immersion? And a kid on some TV show says 一個しか貰えませんでした while he is holding only one piece of candy. Then you see it again in a different context with the same situation.
You would quickly and naturally realize that you were wrong. It doesn’t mean “I could not even get one,” but means “I could only get one.” Otherwise it doesn’t make sense in the situations you’ve seen it in.
Immersion cures all misunderstandings. Check out this piece for reference.
しか is always used with the negative form of verb. It can’t be used with the positive form.
Why? It doesn’t matter.
And let’s say you didn’t know this rule? You would pick it up after hearing it 5 or 10 different ways in various TV shows or movies or anime.