Japanese Grammar

How to Express Subjective Evaluation: さえ, でも, まで, なんて, くらい, and こそ

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Last time, you learned how to express addition, e.g. “ほんさかなだけでなくにく美味うまい (In Japan, not only fish but meat is delicious),” and “宿しゅくだいはもちろんしゅうもちゃんとした (I properly made the preparations, not to mention doing homework too).” Then, if you underestimate the importance of homework like, “you don’t have to do such homework,” how should you say this? In this lesson, you will learn how to express subjective evaluation.

Explanation for the Usage of さえ, でも, まで, なんて, くらい, and こそ

Table of Contents
さえ: Expressing Surprise By Showing Extreme Examples
でも and だって: Implying Reasonableness by Showing Extreme Examples
まで: Adding Unexpected Factors
なんて and など (なんか) : Expressing “Evaluation Beyond Standard”
くらい: Expressing Reasonableness By Treating It as Elementary Things
こそ: Making Distinction between One and Others

The words that you will learn here can be categorized into the focus particle group. Thus, please be aware of the grammatical rules; (1) Focus particles are replaced with the particle が and を. (2) Apart from が and を, focus particles are attached to particles like にだけ and でだけ. (3) Some focus particles can be placed both before and after particles like へだけ and だけへ.

さえ: Expressing Surprise By Showing Extreme Examples

[わたしは] ひらがなさえ め(なかった / ませんでした)
[Topic / Subject] Object of Potential + さえ Verb
[I] was unable to read even Hiragana.

さえ expresses surprise by showing extreme examples. With the above example, by taking hiragana as an example, you express how surprised you are like “even though now hiragana is very easy, I was unable to read it when I first started learning Japanese.” さえ can modify any part of speech, but as for verbs, it should be in the polite form, the te-form, or the plain form with a nominalizer, i.e. 読みさえ, 読んでさえ, and 読むことさえ.

先生せんせい論文ろんぶんさえ添削てんさくしてくれ(た / ました)。
The teacher even corrected [my] thesis.
わたしほんじんかれは「I love you」とさえってくれない。
My Japanese boyfriend doesn’t even say “I love you.”
りょうをしたのに、ボブはべてさえくれ(ない / ません)。
Although [I] cooked [it], Bob didn’t even eat [it].

さえ also expresses inclusion like the particle も. For example, we guess that “論文: thesis” is one of the hardest documents to correct. Taking thesis as an extreme example, you imply that the teacher corrects other easier documents, too. Therefore, we can say that さえ are も are similar. Then, you can express surprise with stronger nuances by combining さえ with も (*look at the third example below).

先生せんせい論文ろんぶん添削てんさくしてくれ(た / ました)。
The teacher corrected my thesis, too.
先生せんせい論文ろんぶんさえ添削てんさくしてくれ(た / ました)。
The teacher even corrected my thesis.
先生せんせい論文ろんぶんさえも添削てんさくしてくれ(た / ました)。
=> Stronger than the above

There is an important combination, which is さえ and the conditional form ば. By using さえ in conditionals, you can express extreme conditions like “if X is just true (and there are no other conditions), Y is true.” This can also be used to express past conditionals (*look at the third and fourth example below).

きょうにさえければぼく満足まんぞく(だ / です)。
If [I] can just go to Kyoto, I will be satisfied.
ぞくさえいれば人生じんせいたのしい(です)。
If [you] just have a family, life is enjoyable.
あめさえらなければこうおくれ(なかった / ませんでした)。
If it didn’t rain, the flight would not delay.
ほんにさえまれればさむらいになっていた(だろう / でしょう)。
If [I] were born in Japan, [I] would probably have become a samurai.

すら has the same function as さえ, but sounds like an old word. As of today, they are interchangeable. Note: The combination between さえ and ば is not interchangeable.

先生せんせい論文ろんぶんすら添削てんさくしてくれ(た / ました)。
わたしほんじんかれは「I love you」とすらってくれない。
りょうをしたのに、ボブはべてすらくれ(ない / ません)。

You cannot use さえ when you ask or invite others to do something.

「I love you」とさえって。=> Wrong!
わたしりょうさえべてくれ(ない / ませんか)?=> Wrong!

でも and だって: Implying Reasonableness by Showing Extreme Examples

このほん しょう学生がくせいでも め(る / ます)
Topic Subject + でも Verb
As for this book, even elementary school students can read [it].

でも implies reasonableness by showing extreme examples. With the above example, the fact that the book can be read by elementary school students is the extreme example. That implies the book can be read by everyone such as junior high school students and adults. でも can modify any part of speech except for i-adjectives and the plain form of verbs. Combinations with nouns are the most common. In colloquial expressions, でも can be replaced with だって.

学者がくしゃでも相対性そうたいせいろんかいでき(ない / ません)。
Even scholars cannot understand the theory of relativity.
このもつかるいから、どもでもて(る / ます)よ。
This baggage is light, so even children hold [it].
からいカレーだってべられ(る / ます)。
[I] can even eat spicy curry.

One of the important usages of でも is to combine with question words. For example, the combination between 誰 and でも indicates “anyone” or “whoever.”

だれでもだいげんにつけることができ(る / ます)。
Anyone can master a second language.
はんなんでもべられ(る / ます)。
As for meals, [I] can eat anything.
ボブがきたいところなら、どこだっていい(です)よ。
Anywhere is good [for me] if it’s where Bob wants to go.

でも is often used to make invitations or give advice. By showing examples, you imply that there are other options and your invitations or suggestions can vary. In this context, でも is NOT interchangeable with だって.

えいでもかない / きませんか)?
Won’t [you] go to see a movie [with me] [or something else]?
コーヒーでもまない / みませんか)?
Won’t [you] have coffee [or something else]?
しょでもえばどう(ですか)?
How about buying a dictionary [or something else]?
がみでもいたらどう(ですか)?
How about writing a letter [or something else]?

でも and さえ have the common usage which is showing extreme examples. Thus, they are interchangeable in some contexts. However, please be aware of the difference of the nuance.

学者がくしゃでも相対性そうたいせいろんかいでき(ない / ません)。
=> Implies it’s reasonable that anyone cannot understand the theory of relativity.
学者がくしゃさえ相対性そうたいせいろんかいでき(ない / ません)。
=> Expresses surprise like “how difficult the theory of relativity is.”
わたしほんじんかれは「I love you」とでもってくれない。
=> It’s wrong because it doesn’t imply any reasonableness.
わたしほんじんかれは「I love you」とさえってくれない。
=> Expresses surprise like “Why he doesn’t say such a common phrase.”

まで: Adding Unexpected Factors

いもうと あさにまで 風呂ふろ はいる / はいります
Topic Specific Time & Unexpected Factor Target Verb
[My] younger sister takes a bath even in the mornings.

The function is to add unexpected factors. With the above example, the speaker thinks people generally take a bath at night. However, the younger sister is an exception. The speaker tries to express additional unexpected factors by using まで. Unlike さえ and でも, まで can modify nouns, the polite form and the te-form of verbs, and clauses (not adjectives). When people use まで in negative sentences, they customarily add は like までは. Otherwise, it sounds unnatural.

電車でんしゃなかまでべんきょうをして(いる / います)。
[I] study even on the train.
このさかなほねまでべられ(る / ます)。
As for this fish, even the bone is edible.
怪我けがをしてまでわたしたすけてくれ(た / ました)。
[He/she] even got an injury but still helped [me].
添削てんさくは、論文ろんぶんまではねがいでき(ない / ません)。
As for corrections, [I] cannot even request a thesis [to be corrected].

も is sometimes used together with まで and indicates surprise.

電車でんしゃなかでまでべんきょうをして(いる / います)。
このさかなほねまでべられ(る / ます)。
怪我けがけがをしてまでわたしたすけてくれ(た / ました)。

This is a different usage, but までも indicates something like a result that you are almost satisfied with. This is rather close to reverse conditions like が and けど.

きんメダルじゃないまでもどうメダルでわたし満足まんぞく(だ / です)。
This is not a gold medal, but I’m satisfied with this bronze medal.

なんて and など (なんか) : Expressing “Evaluation Beyond Standard”

ひらがななんて 簡単かんたん(だ / です)
Subject + なんて Predicate
[There is no point in thinking about it.] Hiragana is easy.
*Said to those who treat hiragana as too difficult to learn.
かんなんて おぼえられ(ない / ません)
Subject + なんて Predicate
[There is no point in thinking about it.] Kanji cannot be memorized.
*Said to those who treat kanji as easy to memorize.

なんて expresses evaluation beyond standard, which can have positive and negative meanings. English translations don’t work well here. “There is no point in thinking about it” can roughly be the counterpart in English. The above examples say something like “I have some experience in learning Japanese, so there is no point in thinking about it. Hiragana is easy and kanji cannot be memorized.” Note: なんて has to be placed after particles, i.e. ほんなんて is correct, but 日本なんてに is wrong.

宿しゅくだいなんて10じゅっぷんででき(る / ます)。
[There is no point in thinking about it.] As for homework, [I] can do [it] in ten minutes.
あさはやなんてきれ(ない / ません)。
[There is no point in thinking about it.] [I] cannot get up early morning.
びょうなんてなりたく(ない / ありません)。
[There is no point in thinking about it.] [I] don’t want to get sick.

なんて can modify any part speech. However, you need to pay attention to the variety of connections especially when used with verbs and adjectives.

むずかしくなんて(しない / しません)。
[There is no point in thinking about it.] [I] won’t make [it] difficult.
*なんて modifies the i-adjective 難しい in the sentence pattern, adjective + する.
うたうことなんて大嫌だいきらい(だ / です)。
[There is no point in thinking about it.] Singing is the one [I] hate.
*なんて modifies the nominalizer こと.
ぱらなんて最低さいてい(だ / です)。
[There is no point in thinking about it.] Getting drunk is worse than anything.
*なんて can work like a nominalizer with the plain form of verbs and adjectives.

Be careful. なんて can have offensive meanings like “There is no point in thinking about it because I gave a low evaluation on it.” Therefore, if you are talking with a person who wants to be a teacher. you should say the second example below.

先生せんせいなんてなりたく(ない / ありません)。
[There is no point in thinking about it.] [I] don’t want to be a teacher.
先生せんせいなりたく(ない / ありません)。
As for teachers, [I] don’t want to be [it].

など is a formal word and なんか is a casual word with the same function as なんて. The difference in the usage is that they can be placed before particles.

びょうなんかになりたく(ない / ありません)。
先生せんせいなどになりたく(ない / ありません)。

くらい: Expressing Reasonableness By Treating It as Elementary Things

[わたしたちは] 挨拶あいさつくらい ちゃんと しよう / しましょう
[Topic / Subject] Object & Elementary Thing Adverb Verb
Let’s greet properly [at least].

くらい expresses reasonableness or naturalness by treating it as elementary things (*Some people use ぐらい instead of くらい). With the above example, you treat greeting as an elementary thing, which implies that greeting is the one you have to do at least. English translations also don’t work well here, but “at least” might roughly be the counterpart in English. くらい can modify nouns and the plain and the polite form of verbs. Note: くらい doesn’t appear in negative sentences.

ごはんくらい一緒いっしょべ(ない / ませんか)?
Won’t [you] have a meal with me [at least]?
500ごひゃくえんしょぐらいぼくでもえ(る / ます)よ。
Even I can buy a dictionary which costs 500 yen [at least].
みずくらいませて(ください)。
Please let me drink [glass of] water [at least].

くらい can work like a nominalizer especially when used with verbs. Be careful. You can be look rude by using くらい. For example, the example below implies that you treat English as an elementary thing, which may upset those who struggle with learning English. The second one is one of the alternatives.

えいはなくらい簡単かんたん(だ / です)よ。
It’s easy to speak English [because it’s elementary].
えいはな簡単かんたん(だ / です)よ。
It’s easy to speak English.

There is an important usage. くらい has to be used when there are gaps between expectation and reality. For example, “挨拶くらいちゃんとしよう” must be said when you have found people who don’t greet. That is to say, the expectation is to greet, but the reality is not to greet.

ごはんくらい一緒いっしょべ(ない / ませんか)?
*Said when you’ve found people who try to eat a meal separately.
500えんしょぐらいぼくでもえ(る / ます)よ。
*Said when you are asked “Can you buy the dictionary?”

こそ: Making Distinction between One and Others

アインシュタインこそが 天才てんさい(だ / です)
Distinguished Subject Predicate
Einstein is the genius.

The function is to make distinction between one and others. The above example implies that there are many geniuses in the world, but Einstein is the real genius. You may roughly translate こそ as “X is the one” or “especially” in English. こそ mainly modifies nouns, the te-form of verbs and clauses.

そんさんこそCEOシーイーオーにふさわしい(です)。
Son-san is the appropriate [person] for CEO.
明日あしたこそぼう(しない / しません)。
[I] won’t oversleep especially tomorrow.
こわいときこそ, うたうたうん(だ / です)。
When you are scared, [it’s the time when] you sing songs.

Summary

  1. さえ expresses surprise by showing extreme examples.
  2. でも implies reasonableness by showing extreme examples.
  3. まで adds unexpected factors.
  4. なんて expresses evaluation beyond standard.
  5. くらい expresses reasonableness or naturalness by treating it as elementary things.
  6. こそ makes distinction between one and others.

This lesson must be long, but we would like to introduce the focus particles all together. They are similar to each other, but certainly have their own functions and nuances. As for overall communication, it is no problem even if you don’t use focus particles. However, they are indispensable for communication with detailed nuances. Please try to master them in order to become an advanced Japanese speaker.

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