“Even” is an interesting word. It can be used for a variety of specific meanings that may be hard to generalise, and can raise particular confusion when it comes to its place in a sentence. It can add emphasis to examples (“I don’t like ducks – not even small ones.”) or verbs (“I didn’t even know the man!”). It can show unavoidable results (“Even when we tried our hardest, we failed.”). It can even show contrasts (“I like them, even though I hate their dog.”). So, how can you use it in sentences?
The meaning of “even”
As an adverb, on its own, even gives the idea of a surprising extreme. It describes verbs, other adverbs or adjectives. Even says something is ‘more than expected’.
- She can even speak Chinese.
- That dog is fast. But the cat is even faster.
Not even is used for extreme negatives, suggesting ‘less than expected’.
- He is not even nice to children.
Where to place “even” in a sentence
When used with a verb, even usually comes with a verb, in the middle position. This means it comes after auxiliary verbs such as have, do, and be (important for the perfect and continuous tenses and question, negative or modal forms); or it comes before a main verb on its own.
I have heard every genre of music. I have even heard gypsy swing music. (After auxiliary verb, before main verb.)
- He broke all the plates. He even broke her favourite plate. (Before main verb.)
When even refers to a subject, it usually goes before the subject, for instance at the start of clause.
- Even the young boy was disappointed with the clown’s performance.
It can also before other words or phrases that you want to emphasise.
- Peter collects many types of coins, even plastic ones.
- I swim in the sea every day, even when it is raining.
With negatives, even comes after not.
“even if”, “even though” and “even when”
You should not use even as a conjunction, on its own, but with if, when or though it can be used as a conjunction. These emphasise contrasting clauses, as something that is surprising or unexpected.
- Even if I won the lottery, I would live in this house.
- I had a good time, even though I spilt my drink.
- He was unhappy, even when they bought him a new car.
The three expressions cannot always be used in the same way. Certain rules can help separate them:
Even though should be used for general rules or facts. It is particularly common for states.
- I like chocolate even though it is unhealthy.
- We met at the park even though it was raining.
Even if is used with imagined or rare ideas.
- I would not kiss him even if he was the last man on Earth.
Even when is used for events, which can be occasional, regular or one-off. It often shows an unavoidable result.
- He sits in the park, even when it rains.
Even so is usually used at the start of a clause, meaning ‘however’, ‘in spite of that’, but particularly focusing on surprising or unexpected results. It is used to present a contrast to an idea that has already been given (unlike ‘even though’, which joins two ideas with a contrast).
- It is sunny now. Even so, I am staying at home.
- Even though it is sunny now, I am staying at home.
“Even so” is very much like the word “but” or “however.” “Even so” is different in that it is used with surprising or unexpected results.
Other uses of “even”
Even can also be used to mean something is flat, equal or neutral. For example an even surface is flat.
When a debt is paid, or something has been settled (such as a dispute), the involved subjects may be considered even.
- He owed me two pounds, but he paid, so we are even.
Even is also used to describe numbers that can be divided by 2 (2, 4, 6, 8 etc.). These even numbers are alternate numbers starting at 2. Alternate numbers starting at 1 (1, 3, 5, etc.) are called odd numbers.