Language | WELL SAID

As long as you learn 'sae ... areba,' communication in Japanese will get easier

by Akemi Tanahashi and Hitomi Tashiro

Contributing Writers

Kono tare sae areba, anata wa ryōri meijin desu. (If you only have this dipping sauce, you’ll be an expert cook.)

Situation 1: At Yuri’s apartment, she cooks for her boyfriend Mr. Sere.

セレ: うわー、これ、おいしいよ! ゆりは、本当に料理が上手だね。

ゆり: 実は、このタレを使っているの。「このタレさえあれば、あなたは料理名人です」って、テレビで宣伝しているのよ。

Sere: Uwā, kore, oishii yo! Yuri wa, hontō ni ryōri ga jōzu da ne.

Yuri: Jitsu wa, kono tare o tsukatte-iru no. “Kono tare sae areba, anata wa ryōri meijin desu”-tte, terebi de senden shite-iru no yo.

Sere: Wow, this is delicious! Yuri, you’re really good at cooking.

Yuri: Actually, I’m using this sauce. The advertisement on TV said, “If you only have this dipping sauce, you’ll be an expert cook.”

The pattern XさえY、Z — in which “X” is a noun, “Y” is a verb in its conditional “-eba” form and “Z” is a phrase that indicates the result of the first part of the structure — is used to express the idea of “if … only” or “as long as.” In Situation 1, Yuri quotes a TV commercial that proclaims anyone can be a great cook as long as they have a special タレ dipping sauce. Other examples include:

疲(つか)れた。お金(かね)さえあればタクシーで帰(かえ)れるのに。 (I’m tired. If only I had money, I would take a taxi home.)

彼(かれ)さえ来(く)ればわかります。 (If only he came, then we’d understand.)

私(わたし)さえがまんすればいいんです。 (As long as I persevere, things will be all right.)

Situation 2: Two colleagues are chatting at the office.

三田: 休みを取って、旅行にでも行きたいなあ。

グレイ: このプロジェクトが終わりさえすれば、たくさん休みが取れるよ。がんばろう!

Mita : Yasumi o totte, ryokō ni demo ikitai nā.

Gurei: Kono purojekuto ga owari sae sureba, takusan yasumi ga toreru yo. Ganbarō!

Mita: I want to take time off and go on a trip.

Gray: If we could just finish this project, we could take a lot of time off. Let’s do our best!

To emphasize the verb when using さえ, use its masu-form and replace ます with さえ. Then attach すれば to it, as in Situation 2’s 終(お)わりさえすれば (if only we could finish).

You can also use さえ with the te-iru form of a verb, as in 生(い)きてさえいれば、きっといいことがあります。 (Only if you keep alive, something good will be sure to happen.) In this construction, however, make sure you put the さえ ahead of いる:

まじめに勉強(べんきょう)してさえいれば試験(しけん)は大丈夫(だいじょうぶ)だ。 (As long as you’re studying seriously, you’ll do OK on the exam.)

Bonus Dialogue: When Mrs. Okubo looks into her son’s bedroom, she notices that he is playing video games instead of studying for his exams.

母(はは): 光男(みつお)、またパソコンゲームしているのね。勉強しないと、いい大学(だいがく)に入(はい)れないわよ。

光男: 母(かあ)さんの時代(じだい)の人(ひと)はみんな、いい大学さえ出(で)れば、いい就職(しゅうしょく)ができて幸(しあわ)せになれると考(かんが)えているんでしょ。でも、人間(にんげん)の幸せは、そういうものじゃないよ。

母: そんな哲学者(てつがくしゃ)みたいなことを言(い)っていないで、勉強しなさい。

光男: 人生(じんせい)とか幸せについて、もっと考えるべきだよ。母さんは、ぼくが勉強してさえいれば、幸せなの?

母: もちろんそうよ。光男が母さんを幸せにするのは、とても簡単(かんたん)よ。早(はや)く幸せにしてね。

光男: あ、ゲームが急(きゅう)に大変(たいへん)なことになっている!敵(てき)が強(つよ)くなっちゃった。じゃあ、あと1時間(いちじかん)したら、母さんを幸せにしてあげるから、待(ま)っていてよ。

母: 本当(ほんとう)に1時間後(ご)に私の幸せが来(く)るのかしら?

Mother: Mitsuo, you’re playing video games again. If you don’t study, you won’t be able to get into a good university.

Mitsuo: Mom, everyone from your era thinks that if you just come out of a good university, then you’ll find a good job and gain happiness. However, human happiness is not that kind of thing.

Mother: You should study instead of speaking like some sort of philosopher.

Mitsuo: You should think more about life and happiness. Mom, if I only study, will it bring you joy?

Mother: Yes, of course. See, it’s very easy for you to make your mother happy. Please hurry up and make me happy.

Mitsuo: Ah, oh no, my game has suddenly become difficult! My opponent has become very strong. OK, I’ll bring you your happiness in an hour, so hold on.

Mother: Will happiness really come to me after an hour?

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