My sense is that the meaning is identical but that 少なくとも is somewhat more formal than 少なくても. Is that observation valid?


According to 明鏡国語辞典:

❶ 少なく見積もっても。最低限でも。少なくも。「経費は少なくとも百万円かかる」
❷ ほかのことはさておき、せめて。「少なくともこれだけは実行してほしい」
◈(表現) 副詞の「少なくとも」の意で「少なくても」というのは慣用になじまない。

It says 少なくとも as an adverb is not interchangeable with 少なくても.

I think 少なくとも cannot be replaced with 少なくても in examples like:

「少なくとも、明日までには/10時までには 仕上げます。」(×少なくても~)

It seems some people (have recently started to?) use 少なくても with phrases containing 数字/数量, but it doesn't sound natural to me, and the dictionary says it's 慣用になじまない (it's not idiomatic / it doesn't match the idiomatic usage):

少なくとも百個はあります。(×/? 少なくても~)
少なくとも一ヶ月はかかります。(?/× 少なくても~)

When it's not used as an adverb (i.e. when it's conditional), of course you can use 少なくても. Here, 少なくとも is more formal than 少なくても:


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  • 少なくても5人は必要だ is wrong? Wow I would have thought it was perfectly fine. So 少なくても is only correct as a conditional? – kandyman Dec 4 '18 at 0:16
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    そうですね・・・ Yes, I think so, basically... The dictionary says 少なくても5人は~~ is not good, and I also think it's not natural... but I think some people use it that way in casual speech. – Chocolate Dec 4 '18 at 0:31
  • Maybe 少なくとも = "at the very least + general statement" whereas 少なくても = "at least + conditional statement), where 'general statement' can also include numbers. – kandyman Dec 4 '18 at 8:46
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    @kandyman At least in the mainstream usage, only 少なくとも is the established idiom to mean "at least, at minimum". 少なくても is just like saying "however few/little (it is)". – broccoli facemask - cloth Dec 5 '18 at 4:04

According to this abstract:


Basically formality and とも is used primarily in written text.

とも can't be used in structures that use repetition, whatever that means (I'm guessing having the ても modified words consecutively following one another without anything else in between):

2 「~ても」と「~とも」の用法




There times you only use 少なくとも


少なくとも is also much more common than 少なくても: 4,961 vs <548 (searching for 少なくて) results in the The National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics corpus.

Also see "高{たか}くっても" vs. "高くとも"、"低{ひく}くっても" vs. "低くとも", etc. usage?

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  • Can I ask you searched that corpus? Is there a free online user interface? – kandyman Dec 4 '18 at 8:47
  • @kandyman nlb.ninjal.ac.jp/search – Ringil Dec 4 '18 at 12:52
  • Sorry but I don't follow how you managed that search from the link you posted. First, you have to use 少ない as a headword or no results appear. Then from the グループ別 tab, I can't find comparisons for 少なくても and 少なくとも. I'm obviously doing something wrong, but can you explain how to get those results from the link you posted? Thanks! – kandyman Dec 4 '18 at 13:30
  • For example, using a different site to search the BCCWJ, I found 4957 instances of 少なくとも and 178 instances of 少なくても. kotonoha.gr.jp/shonagon – kandyman Dec 4 '18 at 13:37
  • @kandyman Searching directly for 少なくとも, I get 4961 on the site. For 少なくても, I searched 少ない -> 少ない+助詞 (under the 助詞 section on the left), then you can see 少なくて is 548. I inspected a bunch of the terms and confirmed this includes も so thats why I said < 548. Hope that makes sense. – Ringil Dec 4 '18 at 14:29

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