If I ask, "Can I borrow a pencil?" I might say: エンピツを借りてもいいですか?

Why do we use the も particle here, since we're not saying also this or that? To express also is the main usage of mo I'm familiar with.


Of course, 〜てもいい is not limited to borrowing, but rather any form of permission.

Being very literal...

エンピツを借りる "to borrow a pencil"
エンピツを借りていい? "Is it okay if I borrow a pencil?"
エンピツを借りていい? "Is it okay even if I borrow a pencil?"

It is certainly not ungrammatical to have a も there (syntactically, you can insert any 係助詞{かかりじょし} between the て and the following verb/adjective), and semantically it makes sense as well.

The fact that the form with the も is more popular, however, is just idiomatic.

  • 2
    I was under the impression that -ていい was -てもいい with も dropped. Am I wrong?
    – Sjiveru
    Jul 7 '13 at 19:17
  • 4
    @Sjiveru Historically, I think 〜てもいい is 〜ていい with も inserted. However, you are probably correct that these days it's the other way around. Jul 7 '13 at 19:28

Okay, so looked this up, and it looks like this is an idiomatic expression of sorts as it doesn't seem to strictly follow the typical usage of the も particle. Typically も does indicate "also" something.

Yet, something + もいいですか? seems to be the idiomatic way to say, "Can I do something"

Likewise, something + もいいです。 would be the way to say, "You can do something."

Correct me if I'm wrong to consider this somewhat of an idiomatic structure, and if there actually is a grammar rule that is being used here.

Reference: http://nihongo.anthonet.com/mo-ii-desu-wa-ikemasen/

  • 2
    It's mildly idiomatic, but really it's a pretty normal, if conventionalised, use of -ても. You could literally translate -てもいいですか as 'is it okay (even) if I...'.
    – Sjiveru
    Jul 7 '13 at 17:49

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