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I'm reading a book and I've come across something i couldn't understand. The sentence is long so I'll only give the section before the comma. It reads 「二人以上の人が顔を合わせさえすれば」.

After looking the phrase 「顔を合わせる」up in the dictionary I'm pretty sure i understand the meaning of it. The grammar/meaning of 'さえすれば' is what I'm struggling with.

The -ば at the end I'm assuming is the conditional 'if'. An explanation would be appreciated. Also, if you could throw in a bit about the difference situations that -ば is most appropriate, as opposed to -たら, that would also be a big help!

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    This might help: japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/33409/さえ-how-to-use-it (Pay particular attention to the ビショップを取りさえすればいいよ example, as that's the closest parallel to the sentence fragment you've asked about.) If you want to ask about differences between 〜ば and 〜たら, that should probably be a separate question. Also, while others may differ, I feel it's better to err on the side of giving more context rather than less, if only because it often makes it easier if someone wants to include a translation in an answer. – Nanigashi Jun 18 at 23:35
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The first thing to understand is さえ. さえ is a particle which essentially creates a focus on the thing which proceeds it, and is usually translated as “even”. It can attach to a noun or to a verb, depending on where the emphasis is placed, and is used in a variety of constructions (I don’t go over them all here; see e.g. Maggie Sensei’s post on this http://maggiesensei.com/2015/03/28/how-to-use-さえsae/ for something more comprehensive!). For example:

彼は自分の影にさえおびえる。 He is afraid even of his own shadow.

Somewhat logically, V+さえすれば is a set expression which means “if only”, “all you have to do”, “as long as” or similar. The ば is indeed the conditional form here. Context will help decide which sounds most natural in English. For example:

君はただ皿を洗いさえすればいい。 All you have to do is wash the dishes. (lit. As long as you just wash the dishes, it will be good)

Thus, 二人以上の人が顔を合わせさえすれば looks like it should mean something like “as long as at least two people meet(/face each other)”. Again, the most natural translation may be different depending on context.

Regarding ば vs たら (and other types of conditional!), those are well explained here Differences among -たら、なら、-んだったら、-えば, etc.

Hope that helps.

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    +1 but we say 影さえおびえる. – broccoli forest Jun 19 at 2:40
  • Ah! Edited; thanks! My mistake. – henreetee Jun 19 at 9:15
  • It would be nice if the answer addressed why 顔を合わせさえすれば is preferable over, say, 顔合わせ(を)さえすれば. – Will Jun 21 at 10:46
  • @Will thanks for the comment. I don’t think there’s a whole lot of difference? But I might not be picking up on the nuance as a non-native speaker. I would probably structurally translate 顔を合わせさえすれば as “as long as (they) meet” vs 顔合わせさえすれば as “as long as (they) have a meeting”. Seems like the same sort of difference between 勉強する and 勉強をする, in that it changes what you can do grammatically in the sentence, but the meaning is largely unchanged (e.g. difference between 日本語を勉強する study Japanese vs 日本語の勉強をする do study of Japanese, is minimal in my mind). But, happy to be corrected by a native speaker! – henreetee Jun 21 at 13:04
  • Thanks: the reason I mentioned it is because while I'm familiar with the construct it always struck me as a somewhat oddly phrased idiom: 顔を合わせする without さえ is not idiomatic (or at least it sounds strange to my ears), but with さえ in there it apparently is. – Will Jun 21 at 13:58

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