LearnJapanese Tae Kim's Guide to Learning Japanese





The minimum expectation

Posted by Tae Kim

In this section, we'll learn various ways to express the minimum expectation. This grammar is not used as often as you might think as there are many situations where a simpler expression would sound more natural, but you should still become familiar with it.

Using 「(で)さえ」 to describe the minimum requirement

Vocabulary

  1. 私 【わたし】 - me; myself; I
  2. 子供 【こ・ども】 - child
  3. 食べる 【た・べる】 (ru-verb) - to eat
  4. 行く 【い・く】 (u-verb) - to go
  5. 言う 【い・う】 (u-verb) - to say
  6. 読む 【よ・む】 (u-verb) - to read
  7. 宿題 【しゅく・だい】 - homework
  8. 多い 【おお・い】 (i-adj) - numerous
  9. トイレ - bathroom; toilet
  10. 時間 【じ・かん】 - time
  11. ある (u-verb) - to exist (inanimate)
  12. お金 【お・かね】 - money
  13. 何 【なに/なん】 - what
  14. 出来る 【で・き・る】 (ru-verb) - to be able to do
  15. お弁当 【お・べん・とう】 - box lunch
  16. 買う 【か・う】 (u-verb) - to buy
  17. あんた - you (slang)
  18. 楽ちん 【らく・ちん】 (na-adj) - easy
  19. ビタミン - vitamin
  20. 健康 【けん・こう】 - health
  21. 保証 【ほ・しょう】 - guarantee
  22. する (exception) - to do
  23. 自分 【じ・ぶん】 - oneself
  24. 過ち 【あやま・ち】 - fault, error
  25. 認める 【みと・める】 (ru-verb) - to recognize, to acknowledge
  26. 問題 【もん・だい】 - problem
  27. 解決 【かい・けつ】 - resolution
  28. 教科書 【きょう・か・しょ】 - textbook
  29. もっと - more
  30. ちゃんと - properly
  31. いる (ru-verb) - to exist (animate)
  32. 合格 【ごう・かく】 - pass (as in an exam)
  33. 一言 【ひと・こと】 - a few words
  34. くれる (ru-verb) - to give
  35. こんな - this sort of
  36. こと - event, matter
  37. なる (u-verb) - to become

In English, we might say, "not even close" to show that not even the minimum expectation has been met. In Japanese, we can express this by attaching 「さえ」 to the object or verb that miserably failed to reach what one would consider to be a bare minimum requirement. Conversely, you can also use the same grammar in a positive sense to express something is all you need.

Using 「(で)さえ」 to describe the minimum requirement
  • For nouns: Attach 「さえ」 or 「でさえ」 to the minimum requirement.
    Examples
    1. さえ - even me
    2. 子供でさえ - even children
  • For verbs: Change the verb to the stem and attach 「さえ」. For verbs in te-form, attach 「さえ」 to 「て/で」.
    Examples
    1. 食べ → 食べさえ
    2. → 行 → 行きさえ
    3. 言っくれる → 言ってさえくれる
    4. 読んいる → 読んでさえいる

Examples

  1. 宿題が多すぎて、トイレに行く時間さえなかった。
    There was so much homework, I didn't even have time to go to the bathroom.
  2. お金さえあれば、何でも出来るよ。
    The least you need is money and you can do anything.
  3. お弁当を買うお金さえなかった。
    I didn't even have money to buy lunch.

For nouns only, you can add 「で」 and use 「でさえ」 instead of just 「さえ」. There are no grammatical differences but it does sound a bit more emphatic.

  1. でさえ出来れば、あんたには楽ちんでしょう。
    If even I can do it, it should be a breeze for you.

You can also attach 「さえ」 to the stem of verbs to express a minimum action for a result. This is usually followed up immediately by 「する」 to show that the minimum action is done (or not). If the verb happens to be in a te-form, 「さえ」 can also be attached directly to the end of the 「て」 or 「で」 of the te-form.

  1. ビタミンを食べさえすれば、健康が保証されますよ。
    If you just eat vitamins, your health will be guaranteed.
  2. 自分の過ちを認めさえしなければ、問題は解決しないよ。
    The problem won't be solved if you don't even recognize your own mistake, you know.
  3. 教科書をもっとちゃんと読んでさえいれば、合格できたのに。
    If only I had read the textbook more properly, I could have passed.
  4. 一言言ってさえくれればこんなことにならなかった。
    If you only had said something things wouldn't have turned out like this.

「(で)すら」 - Older version of 「(で)さえ」

Vocabulary

  1. 私 【わたし】 - me; myself; I
  2. 子供 【こ・ども】 - child
  3. この - this (abbr. of これの)
  4. 天才 【てん・さい】 - genius
  5. 分かる 【わ・かる】 (u-verb) - to understand
  6. 緊張 【きん・ちょう】 - nervousness
  7. する (exception) - to do
  8. ちらっと - a peek
  9. 見る 【み・る】 (ru-verb) - to see
  10. こと - event, matter
  11. 出来る 【で・き・る】 (ru-verb) - to be able to do
  12. 人 【ひと】 - person
  13. 漢字 【かん・じ】 - Kanji
  14. 知る 【し・る】 (u-verb) - to know
  15. 生徒 【せい・と】 - student
  16. いる (ru-verb) - to exist (animate)

「(で)すら」 is a older variation of 「(で)さえ」 that is not as commonly used. It is essentially interchangeable with 「(で)さえ」 except that it is generally used only with nouns.

「(で)すら」 is used in the same way as 「(で)さえ」 for nouns
  • For nouns: Attach 「すら」 or 「ですら」 to the minimum requirement.
    Examples
    1. すら - Even me
    2. 子供ですら - Even children

Examples

  1. この天才の私ですらわからなかった。
    Even a genius such as myself couldn't solve it.
  2. 私は緊張しすぎて、ちらっと見ることすら出来ませんでした。
    I was so nervous that I couldn't even take a quick peek.
  3. 「人」の漢字すら知らない生徒は、いないでしょ!
    There are no students that don't even know the 「人」 Kanji!

「おろか」 - It's not even worth considering

Vocabulary

  1. 愚か 【おろ・か】 (na-adj) - foolish
  2. 漢字 【かん・じ】 - Kanji
  3. ひらがな - Hiragana
  4. 読む 【よ・む】 (u-verb) - to read
  5. 結婚 【けっ・こん】 - marriage
  6. ~ヶ月 【~か・げつ】 - counter for span of month(s)
  7. 付き合う 【つ・き・あ・う】 (u-verb) - to go out with; to accompany
  8. 結局 【けっ・きょく】 - eventually
  9. 別れる 【わか・れる】 (ru-verb) - to separate; to break up
  10. 大学 【だい・がく】 - college
  11. 高校 【こう・こう】 - high school
  12. 卒業 【そつ・ぎょう】 - graduate
  13. する (exception) - to do

This grammar comes from the adjective 「愚か」 which means to be foolish or stupid. However, in this case, you're not making fun of something, rather by using 「おろか」, you can indicate that something is so ridiculous that it's not even worth considering. In English, we might say something like, "Are you kidding? I can't touch my knees much less do a full split!" In this example, the full split is so beyond the person's abilities that it would be foolish to even consider it.

Examples

  1. 漢字はおろか、ひらがなさえ読めないよ!
    Forget about Kanji, I can't even read Hiragana!
  2. 結婚はおろか、2ヶ月付き合って、結局別れてしまった。
    We eventually broke up after going out two months much less get married.
  3. 大学はおろか、高校すら卒業しなかった。
    I didn't even graduate from high school much less college.

This grammar is rarely used and is primarily useful for JLPT level 1. The expression 「どころか」 is far more common and has a similar meaning. However, unlike 「おろか」 which is used as an adjective, 「どころか」 is attached directly to the noun, adjective, or verb.

  1. 漢字どころか、ひらがなさえ読めないよ!
    Forget about Kanji, I can't even read Hiragana!