Grammar Info
N2 Lesson 9: 2/23

(at) most , (at) best, no more than, barely

せいぜい + Phrase
Register Standard
使用域 一般
精々(せいぜい) ‘at the limit’ is an adverb used to convey that something is ‘at the most (A)’, or ‘at best (A)’. This just indicates that the point that (A) has reached cannot be progressed beyond, due to having already reached some physical or metaphorical barrier. This can also often come across as ‘no more than (A)’, especially in cases where no actual barrier exists, but the speaker cannot imagine that anything higher (or lower) than (A) is possible.
As 精々(せいぜい) is an adverb, it often appears at the beginning of sentence, or at the beginning of the second clause of a sentence, before the thing that is thought to be at its maximum is described.
  • このバッグはせいぜい1000円(えん)くらいだろう。
    This bag probably costs 1000 yen at most.
  • せいぜい3ヶ月(かげつ)は働(はたら)いてもらわないと困(こま)ります。
    You need to work for 3 months at the most.
  • 私(わたし)が作(つく)れる料理(りょうり)はせいぜいこんなもんです。
    This is at best what I can cook.
  • 私(わたし)は今(いま)働(はたら)いているので、勉強(べんきょう)できても1日(にち)に精々(せいぜい)1時間(じかん)ぐらいしか勉強(べんきょう)ができない。
    Since I am working now, even if I could study, I can only study 1 hour a day at most.
Fun-fact - 精々(せいぜい) is said to have come from the old-fahioned word 精試(せいぜい), which meant ‘to completely exhaust all of one’s good faith’. In modern times, 精々(せいぜい) itself has kept this meaning of ‘completely exhausting (A)’. However, this is no longer used in reference to ‘good faith’, but rather exhausting all of one’s ‘power’, ‘mental capacity’, or ‘power of assumption’ in relation to (A).
Slow Male
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Witness: "The assailant is about 30 years old at most."
Clerk: "This is 1000 yen." Client: "1000 yen? I don’t think that the quality of these clothes is that high. I can pay 500 yen at most."
Extremely angry fan: "Durden is a second-rate coach at best! Even a child can coach better than him!"
[AIAIJ] An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese
Page 248