Due to a request from one of my readers, in this post I’ll be talking about the Japanese expression “to mo” (とも), which has a variety of uses.
First, “to mo” can be used to mean the particle “to” along with the particle “mo”. I won’t be going over either of these particles in great detail here, but here is a quick refresher for the more common usages of these two:
- mo (も): Can be used to mean “also”, or “not at all” when used with a negative tense.
- 僕も行きたい [boku mo ikitai]
- I want to go too.
- そんなこと、誰もしないよ [sonnna koto, dare mo shinai yo]
- Nobody would ever do that type of thing.
- to (と): Commonly used to mean “and” or “with”. Also can be used to describe what someone said or thought.
- 好きなフルーツはりんごとバナナだ。 (suki na fruutsu ha ringo to banana da)
- The fruit I like are apples and bananas.
- 先生は正解だと言った。[sensei ha seikai da to itta] (“tte” (って) can also be used for this meaning)
- The teacher said “correct answer”.
When “tomo” is used as a combination of these particles, the result is roughly what you would expect – a combination of their respective meanings.
For example, “to mo” can mean “also ” + “with”:
- 君とも勉強したいよ。 [kimi to mo benkyou shitai yo]
- I want to study also with you. (or: “I want to study with you too“)
Here is a case where “to” is used to quote something (as with “正解だと言った”), but the “mo” is added to represent the meaning of “not at all”.
- 僕は漫画なんて詳しくないからなんとも言えない。 [Boku ha manga nante kuwashiku nai kara nan to mo ienai]
- I don’t know anything about Manga so I can’t say anything (about it).
This is an example where “to” is used to quote something, and “mo” used to simply mean “also”.
- すごく難しいとも思った。 [sugoku muzukashii to mo omotta]
- I also thought it was very difficult.
The above usages are the most common compared to the ones I’ll describe below, so if you want to keep things simple you can just memorize these for now.
Now for a completely different usage. “to mo” can also be used to mean “te mo”, in the sense that “~even if”, “~no matter”. In most cases I feel that “te mo” is more common, however, and “to mo” has a certain literary feeling to it.
- 辛くとも頑張ります。[tsuraku to mo ganbarimasu]
- Even if it’s difficult (=emotionally painful) I’ll try my best.
“To mo” can also be used after the “zu” form of a verb, for example:
- なにもせずともいい。 [nani mo sezu to mo ii]
- You don’t have to do anything.
This usage also sounds quite literary to me, though it’s meaning is equivalent to “なにもしなくていい”
Similarly, “(verb in dictionary form) + to mo” can be used to mean “(verb in te form) + mo”. So “するとも” can mean “しても”. However, I haven’t seen this usage very often.
A related expression I hear more frequently is “(verb in past tense) + tte” which can be also be used to mean “(verb in te form) + mo”. So “したって” would be equivalent to “しても”.
“To mo” can also be used after an adjective in the “ku” form in order to express an amount or limit. There are a few adjectives which are commonly used this way. For example:
- 遅くとも一週間以内に終わらせる。[osoku to mo isshuukan inai ni owaraseru]
- I’ll finish it in a week at the latest.
- 少なくとも僕はそう思います。[sukunaku to mo bokuha sou omoimasu].
- At least I think so.
The the last example, “sukunaku to mo” literally means “at minimum”.
For a final usage, “to mo” can be used at the end of a sentence to express strong agreement with someone. Often this can be thought of as meaning “of course”.
- 一緒に行きたいとも！[issho ni ikitai to mo!]
- Of course I’d like to go with you!
In fact, there was a popular variety show that used this to make a pun. The title was called “笑っていいとも！” (Waratte ii to mo!) , and took advantage of the fact this could mean “Of course it’s ok to laugh!” or “Laugh, good friend!”. The latter meaning comes about from the “tomo” in “友達” (tomodachi), which means “friend”.
Though strictly speaking I don’t consider it a usage of “to mo”, in case you came here looking for the expression “to mo naku” (ともなく) , I’ll go over that as well. This can be used to give a sense of vagueness when describing something.
- お化けがどこからともなく現れた。[obake ga doko kara to mo naku arawareta.]
- The ghost appeared out of nowhere.
- 何をするともなく、一日が過ぎて行った。[nani wo suru to mo naku, ichinichi ga sugite itta].
- The day passed, without me doing anything particular.
I’m always open to new ideas for articles, so if you have any questions about Japanese grammar please let me know!