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    Meaning: Expressing the minimum expectation
    JLPT Level: 0
    Category: lesson
    Author: TaeKim

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Expressing the minimum expectation

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

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 as a given. Let's see some examples of this with nouns first. You can also use the same grammar in a positive sentence to show that that is all you need to produce a desired effect.


(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.

(4) 私でさえ出来れば、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 was done (or not done in the case of negative).

(5) 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.

(6) 自分の過ちを認めさえしなけらば、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.
Using 「(で)さえ」 to describe the minimum requirement
  • For nouns, attach 「さえ」 or 「でさえ」 to the minimum requirement
  • 例) 私さえ - even me
  • 例) 子供でさえ - even children
  • 例) 食べ → 食べさえ
  • 例) 行 → 行 → 行きさえ

「(で)すら」 - Same as 「(で)さえ」 but different?

「(で)すら」 is a variation of 「(で)さえ」 that means essentially the same thing and is used in the exact same way. However, it is more obscure and is usually ignored in favor of 「(で)さえ」. The main reason we are covering it here is because since it's the same as 「(で)さえ」, it's a cinch to go over. Plus, it's covered in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) level 1 (if you're thinking of taking that).


(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!
「(で)すら」 is used in exactly the same way as 「(で)さえ」 and means the same thing to boot
  • For nouns, attach 「すら」 or 「ですら」 to the minimum requirement
  • 例) 私すら - Even me
  • 例) 子供ですら - Even children
  • 例) 食べ → 食べすら
  • 例) 行 → 行 → 行きすら
  • However, it is more common to attach the generic noun 「こと」 to the verb and just treat the whole thing as a regular noun. (ie 食べることすら and 行くことすら)

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

I suspect 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.


(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.

Copyright © 2003-2006 Tae Kim (
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