This week’s post is going to deal with the various uses of ‘even’. It’s a word we often use to give a bit more emphasis to a phrase and its meaning can change depending on how it’s used. Including it in your everyday speech will really help you to be more expressive and nuanced with your language. That’s why, in this English teacher’s humble opinion, it’s well worth dedicating a post to.
Firstly, let’s seperate ‘even’ into three distinct uses and then have a much closer look at each one individually:
Use I: To make comparatives emphatic
Example: Jamie Oliver’s chorizo paella was even better than the one I had in Valencia.
Calm down, calm down! I’m only having a laugh with you; it’s just an example…
Use II: To include someone/something in a group (emphatically)
Example: Even idiots know you don’t put chorizo in a paella.
Do you forgive me now?
Use III: To make negative phrases and questions more emphatic
Example: If it’s got chorizo in it, you shouldn’t even be calling it a paella, never mind selling it as such.
You guys definitely forgive me now, don’t you?
Then let’s begin…
USE I – Aún: To make comparatives emphatic
When forming emphatic comparatives, we can use ‘even’ in much the same way that you guys use ‘aún’ in Spanish.
In a normal (non-emphatic) comparative, we might say something like this:
That phrase gives us a bit of comparative information but it doesn’t tell us a lot about whether the weather yesterday was good or bad. Maybe you’re in sunny Spain and yesterday there was a glorious clear blue sky and today there’s just a single cloud. I mean, that’s worse, right? Or maybe, and this is more apt for an Englishman like me, yesterday was just kind of overcast and today it’s raining a bit. The point is; we don’t know. We just don’t have that information.
But what would happen if we added ‘even’ to our comparative?
Now we have a bit more to work with. Simply by adding the word ‘even’ to the phrase, we now know that the weather yesterday was bad and today it’s (even) worse than that.
So let’s compare our new emphatic comparative with a sentence containing ‘aún’ in Spanish:
They have the same meaning, don’t they? ‘Aun’ in this context expresses exactly the same idea as ‘even’. Easy!
I’d like you all to pay attention to the position of ‘even’ within the phrase. It should come immediately before the comparative structure. To make this point even clearer (yes, I’m saying it’s already clear) I’m going to give you a couple more examples with ‘even’. Try to translate them into Spanish using ‘aun’. I don’t think you’ll have too many problems but if you’re not sure, why not ask me in the comments section below?
USE II – Hasta/Incluso: To include someone/something in a group (emphatically)
Last week I had to assemble some Ikea furniture. I had some reservations regarding my own abilities in this department but the sales assistant assured me; “Don’t worry”, she said. “It’s just a bed-side table. Even a child could put it together.”
Blatant, barefaced lies!
Putting her fraudulent sales pitch to one side for a moment (I should really think about suing), let’s analyse what she said. She included children in the group of people who ‘can assemble that table’. What’s more, by using ‘even’, she did it emphatically. She was saying that this table was so easy to construct that someone without any carpentry skills whatsoever, possibly wearing nappies and forming only monosyllabic words, could manage to do it.
Imagine if instead of saying ‘a child’, she had said ‘a fully trained carpenter’. Would she have used ‘even’ in that case?
You can’t really be emphatic, or at least not in the same way, about saying that a specialised tradesman could perform a task which, for him, should be incredibly simple. It’d be like saying “Even Albert Einstein could work out the answer to 2 + 2 = ?”. I mean, of course he bloody could. He’s Einstein. Using ‘even’ in this case would be meaningless nonsense (if you can forgive the tautology).
Time for some good news, guys. This type of ‘even phrase’ can easily be translated using ‘hasta’ or ‘incluso’:
Let’s have a look at a couple more examples just to make sure you’ve got it. Again, if you want to have a go at translating them, leave a comment below:
USE III – Ni / Ni siquiera: To make negative phrases and questions more emphatic:
As regular readers of my posts will know; I don’t go to the gym. That’s a fact. There is, however, nothing emphatic about it; it’s just true. As I like to assure myself when I’m feeling especially unfit, there are plenty of people who don’t go to the gym. It’s nothing special. There’s no need to be emphatic about it.
Almost everybody, however, knows what a gym is. Not knowing what a gym is might therefore call for an emphatic phrase; the kind of phrase in which a Spanish speaker might use ‘ni’ or ‘ni siquiera’. Let’s have a look:
“Does Patrick go to the gym?”
“What? Go to the gym? Are you kidding me? That lazy bastard probably doesn’t even know what a gym is.”
Now we have a beautiful emphatic phrase. The ‘not’ in ‘doesn’t’ provides the negative and then we simply add ‘even’ immediately before the main verb (know) and, hey presto, we have a lovely emphatic phrase with ‘even’. Let’s translate it into Spanish:
As you may already have worked out, to form this kind of structure in English, we need to use:
Pay attention because ‘not’ is often joined to an auxiliary verb. In the example above it was connected to the auxiliary verb ‘does’. Let’s try an example in the present perfect and see how ‘not’ can be used with the auxiliary verb ‘have’.
“Has Patrick done any exercise yet today?”
“Is that some kind of bad joke..?”
“Of course he hasn’t. It’s 11.30 and he hasn’t even got out of bed.”
You got it, right? We simply added ‘not’ to the auxiliary ‘have’, followed it with ‘even’, and then continued with the phrase. Just as we did with ‘does’ in the previous example. Easy! It works this way with all our auxiliary and modal verbs.
Now that we’ve seen how it works with negatives, let’s have a look at questions.
I’ve been racking my brains trying to think of a nice translation into Spanish or Catalan, but I have to confess to you guys that I’ve failed miserably. If anyone has any bright ideas, I’d love to read them in the comments below. For now, however, let’s try to think of them as the ‘question version’ of Use III.
Let’s take our previous example of “That lazy bastard doesn’t even know what a gym is” and turn it into a question. All we’ll have to do is remove the negative and mix up the syntax a bit:
Easy enough. But what are we actually expressing when we form a question like this? What’s the difference between asking the question with ‘even’ and without it?
There has been a theme running through this post and I’m not talking about chorizo or poorly constructed Ikea furniture. I’m talking, of course, about emphasis. Each use of ‘even’ that we’ve studied so far has been used to emphasise something and this one is no different. Phrasing the question with ‘even’ gives the idea of ‘He’s so lazy that I would be surprised if he knew.’ The speaker is emphasising the fact that he/she thinks Patrick won’t know what a gym is.
Well, I’m afraid that’s about all for this week’s post. Next week we’re going to continue this theme and have a look at the difference between ‘even though’ and ‘even if’. It’s a subtle difference, but one that can make a big difference in meaning. We’re also going to contrast them with ‘despite’ and ‘in spite of’. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? You’ll love it. If you don’t, I’ll give you your money back. Admittedly, this blog is completely free, but let’s not get bogged down in details…
Speaking of free stuff, you just learnt some English without paying a penny. Happy days. Do you think you could do me a tiny little favour in return? Could you share this article on social media; Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Menéame, Reddit or somewhere else? Perhaps you could (even!) hit the ‘like’ or ‘follow’ buttons here, or simply leave a comment below? I put a lot of effort into these posts and it would be hugely appreciated. Cheers and see you next week.