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What do the structures ~ど/~ども exactly mean? How are they used?

I have seen these structures in this site:

https://nihongonosensei.net/?p=7938

but I don't understand very well the explanation, apart from the fact that they supposedly mean ~しても, which can be translated differently depending on the type of sentence it is used, and that they were used mostly in old times.

On the other hand, looking at the examples:

(1) 押せど、押せど、新着メールなし。

(2) 待てど暮らせど連絡が来ない。

(3) 寝れども寝れども寝不足だ。

It seems to me that ~ど/~ども do not convey any ~しても meaning (although, however hard, etc.), but more like "doing an action again and again". Then, I would like to clear up the meaning and usage of ~ど/~ども.

Besides, about the examples, if possible, could you please tell me what do they exactly refer to? In which context would those sentences appear? For me, without further context, they don't seem to be ancient-flavoured sentences from old writings and classical literature (古文). If ~ど/~ども don't make too much sense in this kind of sentences, could you please give me an example where you have seen ~ど/~ども used?

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  • Does this answer your question? Meaning of ど in 碧羅の天へ誘えど? Mar 14, 2023 at 17:14
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    Rick, the examples in your post can indeed be parsed by replacing ~edo (mo) with ~ite (mo). The sense of repeated action comes from repeating the verb, not from the ~edo construction. Consider that both ~edo (mo) and ~ite (mo) basically mean "even though ~". 「押 せど 、押 せど 、新着メールなし。」 → "Even though I push (the button) and push (the button), there's no new mail." 「待 てど 暮ら せど 連絡が来ない。」 → "Even though I wait and pass the days, no one contacts me." 「寝 れどもれども 寝不足だ。」 → "Even though I sleep and sleep, I am sleep-deprived." Mar 14, 2023 at 17:57
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    I think part of the reason you are confused is that you are trying to treat しても as if it were a conjunction, simply because it gets glossed that way sometimes (i.e., it's often convenient to use a conjunction in an English translation to represent that part of the Japanese). Japanese grammar is different enough from English grammar that such analyses often break down. しても is して (connective form of する) + the non-contrastive topic marker も. A literal gloss is more like "(also/even) [in the event of] doing". Mar 15, 2023 at 6:48
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    @Eiríkr Útlendi Thank you very much for your explanation. It helped a lot.
    – Rick
    Mar 15, 2023 at 11:39
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    @Karl Knechtel Thank you very much for your explanation as well. It also helped a lot.
    – Rick
    Mar 15, 2023 at 11:40

1 Answer 1

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Meaning-wise, (せ)ど or (せ)ども is just "although" or "even though". The biggest difference from (し)ても is that it's an archaic conjunctive particle that basically belongs to the grammar of classical Japanese. It's no longer a word actively used in modern Japanese.

You may see ど/ども in the following exceptional cases:

  • In haiku, archaic documents, magic spells, oracles, speech of ancient deities, etc.
  • In fixed idiomatic expressions including 待てど暮らせど (see this, too).
  • As part of the ~といえど(も) pattern.
  • As part of the ~ども~ども pattern, as in 寝れども寝れども, in which case the nuance of "again and again" or "like forever" is implied. (Note that the original ども by itself doesn't have such a meaning.)
  • As a parody of this famous waka, i.e., when a joke is intended. Your 押せど押せど may be an example of this.
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    Thank you very much for your answer. It helped me a lot to understand better the structures (せ)ど / (せ)ども.
    – Rick
    Mar 15, 2023 at 11:37

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