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Quoth Edict, たりとも means "(not) even; (not) any", and is probably used as such:

一問たりとも答えられなかった。(even one question, cannot answer)

Is たりとも made up of the individual portions たり ("such things as") and とも ("even if")?

What's the etymology of たりとも?

What are some other ways to analyze its construction?

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up vote 4 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. – user458 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 . – user458 Aug 19 '11 at 20:14

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