Japanese particle combination: “made de” (までで)

By | January 19, 2021

I feel that grammar is the soul of a language, and in the case of Japanese, particles are one of the most important parts of grammar. In this post I’d like to go over the particle combination “made de” (までで), which may not be obvious the first time you spot it in the wild. 

I still remember the first time I saw this pair of words used together, when I thought, “Is this a mistake?” This was because I felt that the “de” particle was somehow part of the “made” particle, so it didn’t make sense to use “made” and “de” next to one another. But it turns out I was wrong––not only does “made” have little to do with “de”, it is perfectly natural to use this combination in certain cases.

The first time I heard this combo was in a sentence like this:

  • それが、今までで一番楽しかったことです。 (sore ga, ima made de ichiban tanoshikatta koto desu.)

Here the word “made” is used for what is perhaps it’s most common usage: to specify “up to” a certain point in time or location. Basically where something ends. Just saying 今まで byself means something like “until now” or “so far”.

The “de” particle has a large number of usages, but the one we are concerned about in this case is talking about a certain set of things. To give a simple example,

  •  彼は友達一番あたまのいい人 (kare wa tomodachi de ichiban atama no ii hito)
  • Of (my) friends, he is the smartest person.

Here “de” specifies “within” all of the friends of the speaker, and omitting it would make the sentence sound awkward.

Putting these things together, we can understand that “made de” specifies within a range that we are specifying the end of. So in this case, 今までで means something like “Taking into account everything up until now”. More specifically, it refers to all the experiences of the speaker. One way to translate this is as follows:

  • それが、今までで一番楽しかったことです。 (sore ga, ima made de ichiban tanoshikatta koto desu.)
  • That is the most fun thing I have done so far.

Notice I used italics for “that” in order to try and capture some of the nuance of “ga” (instead of “wa”).

There are other cases when “made de” can be used for a different effect. I’ll go over another I have seen used and used myself. The context here is that you are walking somebody home and they say this phrase to you.

  • ここまででいいよ (koko made de ii yo)

As before “made” is used to specify the end of something, but here is about space, not time. 

The “de” here is much different from the one in the previous sentence. In fact, I’m not even sure if you would technically call this a particle. It can more easily be understood as the “te” (gerund) form of the “da/desu” verb (also called the copula). The  “~ [te form of a verb] + ii” pattern is frequently used to ask for permission to do something, or to talk about whether it is sufficient for some purpose. You can generally think of this as something being “OK”. For example,

  • 帰っていいですか? (kaette ii desu ka?)
  • Can I go home? (It is OK to go home?)

Here the form is asking for permission to go home. Let’s look at another example:

  • これぐらいでいい (kore gurai de ii)
  • This much is enough.

Here this form, where we use the gerund form of “da/desu”, is specifying that something is good enough or sufficient. The context could be about someone borrowing money, or asking for a refill of a drink.

Now back to our second “made de” example. In that case, we combine these two words to mean that up to some point is sufficient or “OK”. From the context, it is clear that this is referring to the point in space when the act of walking the person home is complete and you split your separate ways. This can be expressed in English as the following:

  • ここまででいいよ (koko made de ii yo)
  • This is far enough.

There’s other examples of “made de” but these are two I’ve seen myself. I think the key to understanding these is to think of “made” and “de” as separate words, first trying to understand their roles, and then put them together.

Thanks for reading! I’ve written a bunch of other articles about particles, check this link out to see them.

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