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Consider

みずからの精神や命を犠牲にしてでもこのままじゃ いけないんだ

The way I would understand this sentence were it using しても (instead of してでも) is:

  • More literal translation: Even (しても) sacrificing my own spirit and life, the status quo won't do!

  • Idiomatic translation: Even if it's at my own expense, I can't let things continue like this!

My best guess is that してでも means "even if it's the case (で) that I do", whereas しても means just "even if I do". So the extra で is kind of like んだ at the end of a sentence ("it's the case that..").

NOTE: I've seen other questions on this site which attempt to explain the difference between ても and てでも, but I found them hard to understand and I thought discussing it in the context of this new sentence might be useful.

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~してでも in isolation literally means "even by/with ~ing". The te-form describes the method, such as in ナイフを使って紙を切る or 歩いて学校に行く. Importantly, this pattern is rather strictly limited to the contexts of determinedly doing something difficult or risky. It's normally followed by a phrase to express a strong willingness, desire or recommendation.

JLPT N2 Grammar てでも (te demo)

even if I have to; by all means

used to strongly express one's willingness or desire to do something

Bunpro: ~てでも

even if I have to, by all/any means, no matter what

When connected to verbs, てでも just emphasizes that 'even if (A) needs to be done, it will be', and expresses the speaker's strong determination to do something, regardless of what the consequences are, or how difficult it might be.

That is, while このボタンを押しても反応しない and 読んでも分かりません are correct, このボタンを押してでも反応しない and 読んででも分かりません are ungrammatical.

Even when there is no explicit word for willingness, desire or recommendation, you must assume such a nuance is implied:

  • 何をしてでも勝つ。
    ≈ 何をしてでも勝とう。/何をしてでも勝たなければならない。
    We are going to win by all means!

On the other hand, ~しても has no such implication:

  • 何をしても勝つ。
    (The opponent is so weak that) no matter what we do, we will win anyway.

してでも has no の/ん, so you should not try to associate it with explanatory-の.

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  • Strictly speaking, is 「何をしても勝つ」 (without the てでも) ambiguous between the interpretation of "no matter what we have to do, we're going to win at all costs!" and "(The opponent is so weak that) no matter what we do, we will win anyway"? Or is it just definitely the latter interpretation (because otherwise てでも would have been used to disambiguate it towards the first interpretation)?
    – George
    Sep 18, 2023 at 22:23
  • Thanks, I think I finally understand what てでも means now :) But in terms of why it means what it means (assuming such an explanation is available), I wish I had more intuition on why て+でも combines to mean something slightly different than て+も. Do you know if the で in てでも is the て-form of the copula だ?
    – George
    Sep 18, 2023 at 22:34
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    @George 何をしても勝つ can mean "going to win at all costs", too, but 何をしてでも would sound more common and idiomatic. in such contexts As for why, で in (-て)でも is etymologically the copula, but dictionaries usually list でも as a distinct particle meaning "despite/even".
    – naruto
    Sep 19, 2023 at 2:33

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