319 - ないまでも

Though today's grammar point is N1 level, it's actually fairly common in Japanese.

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JLPT N1: ~ないまでも

This phrase translates roughly to something like: "even if [one] can't go to far as to."

Now you're thinking, What is that supposed to mean?

Here's an example:

ジムには通わないまでも、すこしは運動をしたらどうですか。
ジム に は かよわない までも、 すこし は うんどう を したら どう ですか。
Even if you don't go to the gym, couldn't you at least work out a little bit?
Literally: "gym + には + don't commute + までも, + a little bit + は + exercising + を + if you did + how about? (=どうですか?)"

In this sentence, the listener is clearly not going to the gym--apparently is not interested in even going to the gym. The speaker, then, is saying something along the lines of "even if you can't go so far as to go to the gym, you could at least exercise a bit."

Like many Japanese grammar points, this sort of makes sense from a literal perspective...

We start with a negative verb in plain form. In the example above, we took 通う (かよう // to commute; to attend; to go back and forth), then we put it in the negative plain form: 通わない (かよわない // don't attend/commute).

Then we have まで, which we can translate to "until" or "as far as." In this case, let's use "as far as."

Then we have も, which can mean everything from "also" to "as much as" to "even," etc. In this case, let's say it means "even."

Let's play with some semi-literal translations now:

通わないまで

even (if) as far as not commuting

→ Even if you don't go so far as to commute (to the gym)...

That's what the phrase means from a literal perspective. From a functional perspective, though, it means something like "at least" or "at the minimum." In other words, the key to this grammar function is the second half of the sentence, which will be a lessened version of the first half:

A ~ないまでも、B.

A = an ideal action
B = a lesser version of A

Note that the verb before ~までも will always be in the negative plain present form. In other words, it will always end in ~ない.


Examples


世界中の全ての人々は救えないまでも、一人でも多くの人を救いたくて医者になりました。
せかいじゅう の すべて の ひとびと は すくえない までも、 ひとり でも おおく の ひと を すくいたくて いしゃ に なりました。
I became a doctor because, even if I can't save all of the people in the world, I want to save as many as I can on my own.
Literally: "in the world + の + all + の + people + は + cannot save + までも, + by myself + でも + many + の + people + を + want to save (and) + doctor + に + became."
Note: You may notice that the end of the Japanese sentence has become the beginning of our English translation. That was the most natural way I could think of phrasing this one--sorry.


Interestingly, ~ないまでも can also be used in sentences that roughly correspond to the English phrase, "can't/wouldn't go so far as to say," as in the following examples...


私の中国語は完璧とは言えないまでも、日常会話は問題ない。
わたし の ちゅうごくご は かんぺき と は いえない までも、 にちじょうかいわ は もんだい ない。
Although I can't go so far as to say that my Chinese is perfect, daily conversation is no problem.
Literally: "I + の + Chinese (language) + は + perfect + とは + cannot say + までも, + daily conversation + は + is no problem."


一日三食すべてとは言わないまでも、健康と節約のためになるべく自炊をすることにした。
いちにち さんしょく すべて と は いわない までも、 けんこう と せつやく の ため に なるべく じすい を する こと に した。
Although I wouldn't say that I cook every meal, I try to cook at home as much as I can to save money and stay healthy.
Literally: "one day + three meals + all + とは + don't say + までも, + health + と + saving / economizing + for (=のために) + as much as possible + cooking for oneself + を + decided to do (=do + thing + に + did)."


That's it for this one.

Now, even if you feel that you've gotten a grasp on the meaning, being able to use this grammar is a whole other story, right? Every now and then, it wouldn't hurt to sign up for a lesson on a site like italki and/or Cafetalk and ask a teacher to drill a grammar point like this with you.

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