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I encountered the following on our daily reading.

どのような企業{きぎょう}も、創業期{そうぎょうき}には全社員が昼食をとること さえ 忘れてしまうほど、忙しくフル回転していたものです。

In a business, a person was so busy that he forgot to eat lunch even lunch. (Not sure if translation is correct.)

From what my friend explained, the さえ means "even" or similar to ほど. Using a similar sentence he explained that さえ was only.

私はお酒 さえ あれば、幸せです。

Even if I have I only have sake, I am happy.

How is さえ used? I think it is synonymous to ほど.

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This is a good question. It deals with two behaviours of さえ. –  Flaw Mar 1 '12 at 10:30

3 Answers 3

up vote 9 down vote accepted

さえ is similar to for many cases. It means "even".

どのような企業も1、創業期には全社員が昼食をとることさえ2忘れてしまうほど3、忙しくフル回転していたものです。

  • Even(も1) for any enterprise in its establishment period all the workers are so busy in full operation to the extent(ほど3) that they will forget even(さえ2) to have lunch.

However there is a special thing that さえ does when used with a conditional clause. When in a conditional clause it expresses "If only", "as long as".

私はお酒さえあれば、幸せです。

  • If only I have sake, I am happy.

  • As long as I have sake, I am happy.

Do note that さえ with a conditional clause happens most with ば-conditional, and less frequently with たら-conditional and なら-conditional, and never with と-conditional.

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I am thinking that さえ may mean せず. I saw on some site that さえあれば is equivalent to なければ –  Nap Mar 1 '12 at 10:30
1  
@Nap. No, most definitely not when they're isolated like that. They are not equivalent at all. –  Flaw Mar 1 '12 at 12:45

Adding to the other answers, I believe that どの~も can also be translated to be "no matter (what/who etc)...", for example:

どのような企業、創業期には全社員が昼食をとることさえ忘れてしまうほど、忙しくフル回転していたものです。

No matter what the form of [business/enterprise], in the [founding period/start-up period] all of the employees are of a fired-on-all-cylinders busyness even to the [point/extent] of forgetting to have lunch.

Space ALC defines どの~も as:

any and every (an emphasized expression of "any")

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+1 for covering the explanation of どのような~も which I did not treat sufficiently. –  Flaw Mar 6 '12 at 0:36

As @Flaw mentioned, さえ is similar to meaning "even" (it can be combined with other particles as well). However, it carries the nuance of referring to a/the most "basic" or "obvious" thing in the context. Here are some examples:

  • 先週の病気は本当に辛【つら】かった。水さえ飲めなかった。 → "My illness last week was really bad. I couldn't even drink water!" When one is sick, you expect them not to be able to drink alcohol, soda, etc. But water should be OK for most people. Even water, the most basic thing was intolerable for this person.
  • えりこは親友の花子にさえ知らせずに外国へ旅立った。 → "Eriko left on a trip to a foreign country without telling even her best friend Hanako." You'd expect her to not tell her co-workers, acquaintances, etc. But best friends usually tell each other everything, and she didn't tell even her.
  • 山の上には夏でさえ雪が残っている。 → "Even if it's summer, there is snow left on the top of the mountain." You expect snow to be on top of a mountain in winter, and some leftover in the spring. But usually by summer it's all gone, but for this mountain the snow remains even then.
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