3

As non-native German, I find difficult to perceive the difference between "nur" and "lediglich". In class it was told they are the same (typical reply to similar questions) but it looks like natives use them in different contexts.

What is the difference between "nur" and "lediglich" and how should I choose them?

  • Most speaker/writer use in a single sentence just one of them, not both at the same time, so how, in which context, did you experience different choices, which didn't look arbitrarly? Have you used a dictionary to find your suspicion confirmed? – user unknown Nov 16 '16 at 16:44
2

Short answer: nur has a wide ranges of usages, and lediglich is a synonym for only some of them.

Long story: First of all, there is the particle nur which is used to emphasize a phrase in a certain way (difficult to explain in detail). You cannot use lediglich as a synonym for the particle nur.

Then there is the adverb nur, which itself has several slightly different meanings. The Duden groups its examples (see the link, I don't want to quote the whole page here) by limitation (1), exclusiveness (2) and contradiction (3). The adverb lediglich always expresses a limitation, it makes something "smaller", so it can replace nur in most of the examples in group (1), and since exclusiveness can be also seen as a kind of limitation you might hear phrases like in group (2) with lediglich, though I would not advise it - it feels a little bit wrong.

Let's have a closer look at the Duden's examples in group (1):

das war nur ein Versehen
ich bin auch nur ein Mensch
ich bin nicht krank, nur müde
ich wollte nur sagen, dass

You can use lediglich instead of nur in the 1st and 4th phrase. It would also work in the 3rd phrase, but sound unidiomatic - "nicht / nur" is a fixed pair for expressing a contrast. In the 2nd phrase, nur is bound to auch. It means "I am just a man like everybody else". Replacing only nur with lediglich would sound strange, and replacing auch nur would change the meaning: "Ich bin lediglich ein Mensch" would lack the reference "like everyone else" and instead emphasize that I as a man have limited or unsufficient capabilities.

Looking at

ich habe nur 10 Euro = I only have 10 Euro
ich habe nur noch 10 Euro = I only have 10 Euro left
sie sind nur mäßig begabt

you can use lediglich in the 1st and 3rd phrase without changing the meaning. It would sound a bit uncommon in the 2nd one and shift the emphasis from left to only.

So to come up with an ad-hoc rule of thumb: lediglich works as a synonym for nur when it expresses that something is small or limited and does not go along with some other adverb or particle (like "auch nur", "nur noch", "nicht / nur").

Last but not least, nur is a very common and frequently used word, whereas lediglich is a bit more elevated in style.

  • Somehow, it seems to me each nur in your examples could be replaced with lediglich, and the only reason why it sounds a little bit unusual in the "Ich bin auch nur ein Mensch." one is because we are dealing with a somewhat set phrase there. – O. R. Mapper Nov 16 '16 at 11:03
5

Nur and lediglich are adverbs with the same meaning. However, nur can be used a bit more broadly.

You can interchange the two words when you want to convey that something is restricted to what is being said.

Ich habe doch nur[=lediglich] gesagt, ...
Er hat nur[=lediglich] seine Aufgabe erledigt.
Es dient nur[=lediglich] zur Information.

In the sense of however as a conjunction, you can't replace nur. But once you use nur as a plain adverb, it's fine again. Duden gives the following example:

Die Wohnung ist hübsch, nur ist sie zu klein für uns.

Don't replace nur with lediglich, unless you make a small but signficant change to the sentence.

Die Wohnung ist hübsch. Sie ist nur zu klein für uns.
Die Wohnung ist hübsch. Sie ist lediglich zu klein für uns.

Finally, nur is also a particle. Never interchange the two words here. Some examples taken from Duden:

Nur mit der Ruhe!
Nur zu.
Iss nur.
Was hat er nur? Wenn er nur käme.
Sie schlug die Tür zu, dass es nur so knallte.

1

nur and lediglich can be used synonymously in some cases - when nur is used as an adjective or adverb. You can not replace nur with lediglich when nur is used as a particle. Compare the translations for nur and lediglich on dict.cc:

nur
only, merely, just, solely, but, exclusively, barely, none but, nothing but, as little as, no better than, no more than, as few as

lediglich
merely, solely, only, simply, entirely, but, just, no better than, as few as

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.