Japanese Grammar Focus: “tomo” (とも)

By | December 18, 2015

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.
    • 行きたい [boku mo ikitai]
    • I want to go too.
    • そんなこと、誰しないよ [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”:

  • 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!









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10 thoughts on “Japanese Grammar Focus: “tomo” (とも)

  1. Paola

    Hello, your blog is very great! I am learning a lot. I was investigating a lot about constructions with とも because I came across a line that I am having a hard time understanding, so I’d like to ask you about it. The line is:

    I think this means something like “It’s different, even not being a lover or friend” But I am unsure, it’s very hard. Some help would be appreciated 🙂


    1. locksleyu Post author

      Thanks for the comment! I think the hard part about that sentence is the “でもない”. It means “not even”, similar to what you said in your translation. I wrote about this briefly at the end of this post:


      Here is my translation of that line:

      “It’s also different from a friend who isn’t a lover’.

      I could try and fit in the “not even” part, but it makes the resultant English awkward, and not sure if it is needed.

      If you give me more of the context (the part before and after that line) I could get you a better translation, however.

      1. Paola

        Hello! thanks so much for your quick reply, and I really appreciate the reference to the article about the uses of も、after reading your explanation, でもない makes much more sense when I see the relation to ではない。

        And sure, here is the entire paragraph where this sentences is located, maybe with more context it’ll make more sense with my translations to each line:

        抱きしめて離したくはなかった  I didn’t want the hugging to stop (I didn’t want to stop hugging you)
        でも全て包む自信がなかったよ But I didn’t have all the necessary self-confidence
        恋人でもない 友だちとも違う **Here comes the difficult line** 🙂
        一番遠くて近い距離にいたい The farthest and closest distance hurts.

        I think your translation of the difficult line makes a lot of sense. “It’s also different from a friend who isn’t a lover” , it probably means that showing this affection is hard when you are friend and not a lover, but it hurts anyway in both scenarios (the farthest [as friend] and closest [lover]), I think?

        Hehehe, I love this, very interesting to try and understand these ambiguous lines, this is why I love Japanese :-p

        Let me know your thoughts. And thanks again for your great blog!

        1. locksleyu Post author

          Thanks for the context. The lines you gave are pretty… I’ll just say not exactly typical Japanese, and the that use of “包む” I’ve never used before. I was pretty sure these came from a song or some other work of art, and with a quick I verified it did.

          I haven’t translated songs too much, but I believe you have much more artistic freedom to adjust the meaning so that the overall meaning (and feeling behind it) is conveyed, as opposed to a line-by-line translation.

          Having said that, I think my original translation is still probably appropriate for this.

          It’s good practice to learn songs in Japanese, though some of the expressions you learn may not carry over into other areas since there is more ‘unique’ stuff there.

          Anyway, thanks for the comments!

          1. Paola

            Thank you very much for your response and the help with the line translation, I also think your translation of the line fits very well with the overall meaning. And yeah, I also think the lyrics of this song are very beautiful, it’s one of my favorites, this is why I wanted to learn from it 😀

            And I also agree sometimes in songs there may be some things that are not used in typical conversation, but it has helped me a lot learn new vocabulary and now new constructions like でもない since I am listening to them over and over LOL! 🙂

  2. Segun

    This was really quick!
    It was really helpful, especially that you explained where the expression stems from that is actually two particles together.

    If it is not a bother once again I would like you ask for a lesson on the different ways to say “never” in Japanese. I know the words 決して and 全く, but apparently, from what I read once, they are slightly different. I also found the expression 一つ度も。。。しない. If you could explain this it would be very helpful.

    Thanks for the lessons.

      1. Segun

        I was wondering how this applies to -na adjectives and those adjectives that end in 的 which I guess are also considered -na adjectives… For example, these words: 綺麗 and 魅力的.

        綺麗とも and 魅力的とも is how it works with these type of adjectives?


        1. locksleyu Post author

          Yes, you have the right idea. I don’t think there is any fundamental difference when using -na adjectives. So “綺麗とも言えない” would mean something like “I can’t say (she/he) would be pretty either”.

          The only complication here is that sometimes “だとも” can be used with them. In this example, “綺麗とも言えない” is more common than “綺麗だとも言えない”, but “綺麗だとも思えない” is more common than “綺麗とも思えない”. But I wouldn’t worry about that too much though (:


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