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Could you explain to me the difference between さえ and でさえ?

Example:

そんなこと、子どもでさえ知っている。

Can I use さえ instead of でさえ in this sentence?

そんなこと、子どもさえ知っている。

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    Using just さえ here instead of でさえ sounds wrong to me, but I can't really explain why.
    – istrasci
    Commented Jul 3, 2016 at 20:19

2 Answers 2

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Grammatically, "で" can only be used before "さえ" when "でさえ" comes after a noun. "で" cannot be used after a verb. E.g. たべさえすれば is OK but たべでさえすれば is NG. Semantically, "で" adds emphasis or is filler.

My very good source: http://www.guidetojapanese.org/learn/grammar/even

[edit-append] I used google to search for "子どもでさえ" and "子どもさえ". Statistically, "子どもでさえ" is overwhelmingly more frequent. I think it is because "子供でさえ" is a fixed expression just as the English expression "Even a child ..." is a fixed expression to express how easy/simple/knowable/etc. something is. When used for that meaning, "子供さえ" would therefore sound odd.

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  • What about the OP's example sentence though? Do you think that さえ and でさえ would be interchangeable there?
    – sazarando
    Commented Jul 4, 2016 at 8:28
  • @sazarando- Thanks for the question. I addressed it by modifying my answer. Commented Jul 4, 2016 at 10:24
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    This does not answer the OP's question. Citing statistical frequency of one over the other does not address the reasons why one is preferred, nor does it explain whether one is incorrect or not. Both さえ and でさえ can be used after a noun. The OP wanted to know what the difference in meaning/nuance was between these usages. If 子どもさえ知っている is not correct, you should explain why.
    – kandyman
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 10:19
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The only particles that are optional are に and へ. The other ones all have to be there or aren’t even used. If you drop any particle that comes before さえ (again, except for に and へ) it changes the meaning.

Also, if you want an equivalent to でさえ, try でも。

with さえ
そんなこと、子供【こども】でさえ知【し】っている。

with も
そんなこと、子供【こども】でも知【し】っている。

Watch out for Conditionals

Be careful with conditional clauses, though. Under those circumstances でさえ changes meaning from "even" to "if only" or "as long as". As you can imagine, it can’t be replaced by でも anymore.

the page out of the dictionary

sources

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    In daily conversation I don't use/hear ~をさえ. I think I see it in rather literary/formal writing.. so maybe it's a bit old usage.. かもね~
    – chocolate
    Commented May 10, 2018 at 12:51
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    Martin's Reference Grammar of Japanese (1975) gives 5 examples of をさえ on page 75, but he mentions that it is considered "literary", similarly to をば and をも.
    – user1478
    Commented May 11, 2018 at 0:48

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