Today’s Grammar Point: ~さえ/~でさえ

Yesterday, I talked about the ~さえ that indicates “accumulation” and that ~さえ can be replaced with ~まで.

Today, I’m going to talk about ~さえ which is used to give an extreme example and let others guess the rest. This ~さえ cannot be replaced with ~まで but can be replaced with emphasising も although the extreme feel gets (slightly) reduced with も.


  • [noun] (+ [particle])* + さえ
  • [plain form verb] + こと (+ [particle])* + さえ
    *さえ usually replaces particles は、が、を but if any other particle is needed, that stays.
  • [てform verb] + さえ


息子むすこはアイスクリームさえべない。(さえ is replacing を)
My son doesn’t eat even ice cream.

あの自分じぶん名前なまえさえけない。 (さえ is replacing が)
≒ あの自分じぶん名前なまえけない。
That child cannot write even his own name.

トイレにさえ一人ひとりけない。(This に is the destination marker thus cannot be replaced by さえ)
≒ トイレに一人ひとりけない。
I cannot go alone even to the toilet.

自転車じてんしゃさえ10分じゅっぷんかかる。 (This で is the means marker thus cannot be replaced by さえ)
Even on a bicycle it will take 10 minutes.

あめあとさえ、すずしくならない。(This で is a time marker thus cannot be replaced by さえ)
Even after the rain, it doesn’t cool down.

みずむことさえむずかしいんです。 (さえ is replacing が/は) (Today’s Caption Sentences)
Even drinking water is difficult.

I have never even opened the book.

You’ll make it even if you walk.

Even after losing the match, he doesn’t look sad.


When ~さえ follows a noun directly (as ~さえ usually replaces particles は, が or を, this happens quite often) and means “even,” で is often added before さえ, and this でemphasises the meaning of さえ even more (no pun intended). Although you don’t need to remember this, this で is not a particle specifying “means,” “place of action,” “time,” etc., but this で is the てform of the affirmative auxiliary verb です/だ.

The rain stopped and even the sun showed up.

息子むすこアイスクリームさえべない。(≒ 息子むすこアイスクリームべない。 )
My son doesn’t eat even ice cream.

As shown above, “[noun] + さえ” can be replaced with “[noun] + で + さえ” even when さえ can be replaced with まで but it seems to me that adding で happens more often with the さえ that can be replaced with も. Now one thing clear here is that once で is added in front of さえ, さえ can no longer be replaced with まで. So you cannot say あめんで、太陽たいようでまでかおせた. However, with も the story is not that simple.

~でさえ vs ~でも

“[noun] + で + さえ” can sometimes be replaced with “[noun] + で + も” but not always. This happens because, while both “[noun] + で + さえ” and “[noun] + で + も” emphasise the extreme nature of the situation, “[noun] + で + も” has the focus on the deviation from the norm, so if the sentence does not let us assume the norm which makes a contrast with the extreme situation shown in the sentence, “[noun] + で + も” cannot be used. See below.

(✓) 日曜日にちようびでさえ仕事しごとかなければならない。
(✓) 日曜日にちようびでも仕事しごとかなければならない。 (I have to go to work even on Sundays, let alone on weekdays (the norm).)
I have to go to work even on Sundays.

(✓)そんなことは どもでさえわかる。
(✓)そんなことは どももわかる。 (Even a child can understand, so adults (the norm) should be able to understand.)
Even a child can understand that.

For the above examples, we can assume the norm from the sentence. However, in the examples below, we cannot assume the norm, thus we cannot replace でさえ with でも.

(✓) あの自分じぶん名前なまえでさえけない。
(×) あの自分じぶん名前なまえでもけない。 (Wring his own name is the least expectation. There is no norm suggested here.)
That child cannot write even his own name.

(✓)のどがいたくて、 みずむことでさえむずかしい。
(×)のどがいたくて、 みずむことでもむずかしい。 (There is no norm that suggests drinking water is an extreme deviation from it.)
As I have a sore throat, even drinking water is difficult.

Answer to today’s question: c (for meaning see above)

All the other sentences mean: “Even drinking water is difficult” but as “drinking water” is not a deviation from any norm, でも cannot be used.

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  • さえ

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