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Hi all does anyone know why does たりとも mean "not even; not any" ?

Example sentence: 一問たりとも答えられなかった

I was thinking the たり is attached to 一問 to mean something like "stuff like one question" and と means something like "if" and the も means something like "even" so it becomes "even if it's one question, can't answer" but it sounds abit quirky.

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

You are close, but yout problem is that you are trying to interpret ...たりとも as a modifying clause. It is rather a subject with a relative clause: 'I could not answer even something that is a (mere) single question'.

But if you are not particularly interested in a deep analysis, you can just understand たりとも as a fixed expression meaning 'even'.

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Is it equivalent to すら? 一問すら答えられなかった –  Lukman Aug 19 '11 at 17:35
@Lukman In this case they mean the same but it it not interchangable. You can say 簡単な問題すら答えられなかった but not 簡単な問題たりとも答えられなかった. –  sawa Aug 19 '11 at 18:35
btw I was wondering where did the "mere" come from. did the たり contribute to the "mere" ? –  Pacerier Aug 19 '11 at 20:07
@Pacerier As I put that in parentheses, there is not counterpart in the original. It is just there to make it easier for English speakers. But an indirect source is . –  sawa Aug 19 '11 at 20:14
@sawa ok cool thx for the answer =D –  Pacerier Aug 19 '11 at 20:32
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As was discussed back in adj-たる, 「Xたり」 is actually the quote particle plus noun 「Xとあり」, Referring to the existence of 「X」. So the sentence translates to "Even if one question exists, couldn't answer", or more simply, "Couldn't answer even one question".

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This is incorrect. Although あり means to exist, neither たり nor とあり means existence. In the linked answer, “to be” does not refer to existence, but it refers to copula. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Aug 20 '11 at 0:54
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