This post's title refers to ODO's definition 1. Used to emphasize something surprising or extreme.

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[ OED : ]  II. In weakened use as an intensive or emphatic particle. (In later use many uses of senses in this branch show some suggestion of sense A. 8.)

5. Exactly, precisely, just. In later use generally somewhat archaic.

8. a. Used to convey that what is being referred to is an extreme case in comparison with a weaker or more general one which is stated or implied in the adjacent context. Prefixed to the particular word, phrase, or clause in which the extremeness of the case is expressed.

 b. In uses parallel to those at A. 8a, but placed after the word, phrase, or clause to which it relates.

[ Etymonline : ]   The adverb is Old English efne "exactly, just, likewise." Modern adverbial sense (introducing an extreme case of something more generally implied) seems to have arisen 16c. from use of the word to emphasize identity ("Who, me?" "Even you").

Etymologists are uncertain whether the original sense was "level" or "alike."

Q1. What semantic notions underlie 'levelness' or 'alikeness', with 'something surprising or extreme'?

Q2. Don't the semantic notions of 'levelness' or 'alikeness' contradict the notion of 'something surprising or extreme'? If X is more extreme than Y, then X and Y are neither level nor alike.

  • Probably need to go back and see why the same evolution/relation existed in French.
    – Drew
    Commented Jul 9, 2016 at 0:03

2 Answers 2


I will try to explain the underlying semantic notion that connects sense (6) to sense (9). It's speculative, but I think on the right track.


  1. She's mean, evil even.
  2. She's mean. She's even evil.

I take it that these are the kinds of construction you're asking about. Here, even intimates a more extreme version of mean, licensing evil.

A rough paraphrase of these would be:

  1. She's mean, or, more exactly, evil.


  1. She's mean, or, more precisely, evil.

These paraphrases include the words exactly and precisely. This is essentially sense (6) of your definition. The idea is that the new, more extreme word (in this case evil), is more exact or precise than its antecedent (in this case mean).

This should help you see how to get from sense (6) to (9). That this is the correct link to be looking for is corroborated by your quote, which says that sense (6) "suggests some notion of sense (9)."

  • 1
    I don't know if I'm the only one that sees it this way, but I see it in the following way: 'She's mean; some would say she's also evil'. In this sense I don't see 'even' merely serving the purpose of adding more precision, but also adding a notion of possibility/plausibility
    – user180089
    Commented Jul 8, 2016 at 23:26
  • 2
    @V0ight, I definitely get that too... There seems to be connotations of both precision and possibility/plausibility...
    – DyingIsFun
    Commented Jul 8, 2016 at 23:28
  • Silenus ~ cool, glad to know I'm still sane then. I suppose one reason for the connotation of 'possibility' is that if the speaker were certain that she is 'evil', then he would have outright said that she is evil without going to the lengths of prefacing her 'evilness' with the fact that she was 'mean' as well.. But one could also say that adding 'evil' after 'mean' is tongue-in-cheek.
    – user180089
    Commented Jul 8, 2016 at 23:39
  • What @V0ight says sounds right to me. You are saying that the same thing (même) applies also to something else, citing another occurrence, which is a strengthening.
    – Drew
    Commented Jul 9, 2016 at 0:05
  • 1
    @Drew Sorry; I missed your comment. latin.stackexchange.com/q/5038/37 may interest you.
    – user50720
    Commented Oct 23, 2018 at 23:39

Even is a scalar focus particle: the exact meaning is not only one of "surprise," but there is also a comparative component. It almost always implies that something is more unexpected than some understood reference point. So when you say:

Even Thomas came to the party.
I even helped her find a new roommate.
I didn't even put on a belt, I was in such a rush.

It implies that others, generally more inclined to attend the party, also came; or that you did other, less helpful things to assist with her living situation; or that there were other, less remarkable indicators of your haste.

Heine and Kuteva (World Lexicon of Grammaticalization) give examples of words meaning "resemble" in Chinese and Colloquial German grammaticalizing to a comparative marker. Could this be a similar phenomenon? Not sure. I think even is an interesting word because the precise meaning is often not well characterized.

  • 1
    Could you specify a bit more on the resemble words as comparative markers? The Chinese (well, Mandarin) comparative marker is 比 bǐ, which doesn’t mean ‘resemble’, but ‘compare’ – quite a logical marker of comparison. German uses als as ‘than’, which also means ‘as, like’, better fitting the resemblance notion, but the comparative market itself is surely just the comparative degree, as in English? Commented Jun 4, 2019 at 6:20

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