Language

At least learning the term 'sukunakutomo' will help you in your Japanese conversation

by Akemi Tanahashi and Hitomi Tashiro

Contributing Writers

Sukunakutomo sanbyakuman-en wa hitsuyō desu.

At least ¥3 million is necessary.

Situation 1: Department Head Yamani asks Section Chief Okubo about the estimate for a new project.

ヤマニ: 新規プロジェクトの見積もりは出ましたか?

大久保: はい、少なくとも三百万円は必要です。

Yamani: Shinki purojekuto no mitsumori wa demashita ka?

Okubo: Hai, sukunakutomo sanbyakuman-en wa hitsuyō desu.

Yamani: Has an estimate come out for the new project?

Okubo: Yes, at least ¥3 million is necessary.

The phrase 少(すく)なくとも is made up of the adjective 少ない and the particle とも, and it translates as “at least.” It is the old form of 少なくても, but the pattern “少なくとも X は Y” can often be heard in everyday conversation and is sometimes used in written Japanese.

In the “少なくとも X は Y” pattern, X represents a number that marks the lowest limit for Y, which is a verb or adjective phrase. In Mr. Okubo’s response, at least ¥3 million (X) is necessary (Y) for carrying out the new project. Other examples include:

少なくとも一日(いちにち)2時間(にじかん)は勉強(べんきょう)しなさい。 (You should study at least two hours a day.)

少なくとも五人(ごにん)はほしい。 (I want at least five people.)

Other adjectives can be used in this pattern instead of 少ない as long as they indicate a limit in time, distance, price, profit, the amount of loss and so on. For example:

遅(おそ)くとも6時(ろくじ)までには終(お)わらせたい。 (I want to finish it by 6 o’clock at the latest.)

While theoretically other adjectives can be used, in practice the Japanese tend to only use 少ない, 遅い and 早(はや)い with the とも structure. With other words, ても is usually used:

狭(せま)くても50平方(ごじゅっへいほう)メートルはほしい。 (I want [an apartment] that’s at least 50 square meters.

Situation 2: Section chief Mr. Okubo has a word with Adam, a young trainee who arrived late to the office this morning.

大久保: 仕事が遅かったり、多少のミスをするのは仕方がない。まだ、慣れていないんだから。だが、少なくとも、遅刻だけはしないように。

アダム: はい、申し訳ありません。これから気を付けます。

Okubo: Shigoto ga osokattari, tashō no misu o suru no wa shikata ga nai. Mada, narete-inai-n-dakara. Daga, sukunakutomo, chikoku dake wa shinai yō ni.

Adam: Hai, mōshiwake-arimasen. Korekara ki o tsukemasu.

Okubo: It can’t be helped if you’re a slow worker or make some mistakes. You’re not yet used to [this work]. But, at least don’t be late.

Adam: Yes, I am sorry. From now on I will be careful.

In the pattern “少なくとも X は Y,” X isn’t limited to representing a numerical figure. In Situation 2, Mr. Okubo uses it to express the concept of lateness. For example:

少なくとも規則(きそく)だけは守(まも)ってほしい。 (I want you to stick to the rules at least.)

少なくとも、彼(かれ)が犯人(はんにん)じゃないことは信(しん)じてもいい。 (At least we can trust [the notion] that he is not the culprit.)

少なくとも、お礼(れい)だけは言(い)いたい。 (I want to thank her at the very least.)

Bonus Dialogue: Ms. Tamachi is having a chat with a friend from her university days named Sayaka.

田町: おたがい、なかなか彼氏(かれし)ができないね。

さやか: 特(とく)に高望(たかのぞ)みしている訳(わけ)じゃないのにね。遅くとも、30歳(さんじゅっさい)までには結婚(けっこん)したいなあ。

田町: 何(なに)か、条件(じょうけん)って、ある?

さやか: やさしくて、結婚したら、家事(かじ)を少なくとも半分(はんぶん)は分担(ぶんたん)してくれて、子(こ)どもの面倒(めんどう)を見(み)てくれて…。

田町: それがベストね、共働(ともばたら)きの家庭(かてい)としては。

さやか: 私(わたし)は、共働きより、専業(せんぎょう)主婦(しゅふ)になりたいな。

田町: え?!

さやか: それと、年収(ねんしゅう)は、少なくとも八百万(はっぴゃくまん)はないと。

田町: うーん…、彼氏ができない理由(りゆう)は、さやかと私とでは全然(ぜんぜん)違(ちが)ってる…。

Tamachi: It’s been a while since either of us has had a boyfriend.

Sayaka: Especially since it isn’t that we’re aiming too high. I’d like to be married by 30 at the latest.

Tamachi: Do you have some kind of requirements?

Sayaka: Kind, and after we’re married I’d like him to do at least half the housework, his share, for me and help look after the kids.

Tamachi: That’d be the best, right? As a dual-income family.

Sayaka: I’d rather be a housewife than keep working.

Tamachi: What?!

Sayaka: Also, his annual salary should be at least ¥8 million.

Tamachi: Well, the reason neither you [Sayaka] or I can get a boyfriend is completely different.