902 - さえ

JLPT N3: さえ (even)

Time for one of those fun grammar points that are useful if you want to spice up your sentences and put some real emotion into them. 

さえ as we’re using it in this lesson means “even” and is used to show that something goes way beyond the speaker's personal expectations.

The best part? It’s super simple to use! Let’s dive right into it, shall we?

 

静香さんは虫が大の苦手で、さえ怖がる。
しずかさん は むし が だいの にがて で、 か さえ こがわる。
Shizuka-san really hates bugs. Even mosquitoes scare her.
Literally: “Shizuka-san + は + bugs + が + big + の + dislike (and), + mosquitoes + さえ + be afraid of.”


怒った姉は、財布さえ持たずに家を飛び出していった。
おこった あね は、 さいふ さえ もたずに いえ を とびだして いった。
My sister got angry and flew out of the house. She didn’t even take her purse.
Literally: “was/got angry + older sister + は, + purse + さえ + without holding + house + を + flee (and) + went.”


As you’ve probably guessed, it works like this:

NOUN + さえ

Take note: The NOUN in this construction will be the thing that's beyond your expectation.

 

In the first two examples, we can see that さえ often attaches directly to nouns, but it can (and in some circumstances should) be used with a particle. For example:

医者に余命1年と宣告されたことは、さえ言っていない。
いしゃ に よめい いちねん と せんこく された こと は、 つま に さえ いっていない。
I haven’t even told my wife that my doctor said I only have a year to live.
Literally: “doctor + に + remaining years (of life) + 1 year + と + pronouncement + was done + thing + は, + (my) wife + に + さえ + haven’t said.”


This needs that , because without it, the sentence could be interpreted as meaning, "Even my wife hasn't told anyone that the doctor said I only have a year to live." And that sounds...kinda weird. Right? In fact, without the , the original Japanese is so strange, there's no way to translate it correctly. 

 

さえ can also be used with , like this:

さえできるのだから、あなたにできないわけがない。
わたし で さえ できる のだ から、 あなた に できない わけがない。
Even I can do it, so there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to.
Literally: “I + で + さえ + can do + のだ + therefore (=から), + you + に + can’t do + there’s no way.”


株の動きは、専門家さえよみ間違えることがある。
かぶ の うごき は、 せんもんか で さえ よみ まちがえる ことがある。
Even the experts sometimes make mistakes when predicting stock trends.
Literally: “stock + の + trend + は, + expert + で + さえ + misread + thing + が + there is.”


You might also see this grammar point being used with から, etc. However, you probably won't see it with , or. To remember this, it might be useful to think of さえ as some kinda superparticle that's so powerful, it negates the weaker particles (that are easily dropped in conversation).

 

You might have realized this looking at the above examples, but you could replace さえ with . However, there is a slight difference in nuance between the two. For example, if we take another look at the first sentence:

静香さんは虫が大の苦手で、さえ怖がる。
しずかさん は むし が だいの にがて で、 か さえ こがわる。
Shizuka-san really hates bugs. Even mosquitoes scare her.
Literally: “Shizuka-san + は + bugs + が + big + の + dislike (and) + mosquitoes + さえ + be afraid of.”


If we replaced さえ with here, the English translation wouldn’t necessarily change. However, the level of emphasis would.

If you used , it would show that you find it surprising that mosquitoes scare Shizuka-san, but maybe it’s not all that out of the ordinary. Using さえ, on the other hand, shows that you think it’s pretty ridiculous that she’s scared of mozzies, of all things. 

If that sounds too complicated, feel free to ignore it. Both are grammatically correct, and these little nuances are things you’ll pick up naturally as you come into more and more contact with native Japanese. It’s all good!

 

So, is there any way to make your phrasing even more emphatic than just using さえ? You betcha. Know how I said you can use either さえ or も? You can also use both.

Combine the two to make さえも, and by doubling their meaning of "even," you've got some serious emphasis going on.

さえも is actually used a lot. In fact, in all our example sentences above, さえ is interchangeable with さえも. So, feel free to slip it into your sentences if you're feeling particularly emphatic! 

 

That's all for this lesson! Great job!