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How to say 'if' in Japanese
This whole section is dedicated to learning how to say 'if' in Japanese. Oh, if only it was as simple as English. In Japanese, there's four (count
them, four) ways to say 'if'! Thankfully, the conjugations are sparse and easy especially since you don't have to deal with tenses.
Expressing natural consequence using 「と」
We'll first cover the simplest type of 'if' which is the natural consequence conditional. This means that if something [X] happens, [Y] will
happen, period. No question about it. If I drop a ball, it will fall to the ground. If I turn off the lights at night, it will get dark. We can express
this type of condition in the following format. The condition must be a explicit state of being or action. This means that non-conjugated
nouns and na-adjectives must end with 「だ」 (once again). Perhaps, this is in order to prevent confusion with the 「と」 particle.
Rules for using the conditional 「と」
Attach 「と」 to the condition followed by the result that would occur should be condition be satisfied
= [Condition] + と + [Result]
State of being must be made explicit
= [State of Being] + だと + [Result]
- If you drop the ball, it will fall.
- If you turn off the lights, it will get dark.
These examples are designed to show how 「と」 is used to express natural consequence. However, even if the statement isn't a natural
consequence in itself, the 「と」 will tell the audience that it is nevertheless expected to be a natural consequence.
- If you don't go to school, you'll run into trouble for sure.
- If you eat a lot, you will get fat, for sure.
- If he's a teacher, he must be older for sure, right?
The "for sure" part is the implied meaning supplied by the 「と」. The speaker is saying that the following condition will occur in that situation, no
Contextual conditionals using 「なら（ば）」
Another relatively easy to understand type of "if" is the contextual conditional. You can use this particle to express what will happen given a certain context.
For example, if you wanted to say, "Well, if everybody's going, I'm going too" you would use the 「なら」 conditional because you are saying that you will go
in the context of everybody else going. The contextual conditional always requires a context in which the conditional occurs. For instance, you would use it
for saying things like, "If that's what you are talking about..." or "If that's the case, then..."
In a sense, you are explaining what would occur if you assume a certain condition is satisfied. In other words, you are saying "if given a certain context, here is
what will happen." You will see this reflected in the English translations as the phrase "if given" in the examples.
The 「なら」 is attached to the context in which the conditional occurs. The format is the same as the 「と」 conditional, however, you must not
attach the declarative 「だ」.
Rules for using the contextual conditional 「なら」
Attach 「なら」 to the context in which the conditional would occur
= [Assumed Context] + なら + [Result]
You must not attach the declarative 「だ」.
- If given that everybody is going, then I'll go too.
- If given that Alice-san says so, there's no problem.
アリス） 図書館はどこですか。 - Where is the library?
ボブ） 図書館なら、あそこです。- If given that you're talking about the library, then it's over there.
The following is incorrect.
You can elect use 「ならば」 instead of 「なら」 which means exactly the same thing except that it has a more formal nuance.
General conditionals using 「ば」
This type of conditional just expresses a regular "if" condition without any assumptions or embedded meanings. However, it cannot be used with
nouns and na-adjectives. Conjugation-wise, the 「ば」 conditional is fairly easy.
For verbs, like the potential form, you change the last u-vowel sound to a e-vowel sound and instead of attaching 「る」, you attach 「ば」. This rule
also applies to ru-verbs. Easy, huh? For i-adjectives, and negatives ending in 「ない」, you take off the last 「い」 and add 「ければ」.
Conjugation Rules for 「ば」
change the last / u / vowel sound to the equivalent / e / vowel sound and attach 「ば」
（例） 食べる → 食べれ → 食べれば （例） 待つ → 待て → 待てば
For i-adjectives or negatives ending in 「ない」, drop the last 「い」 and attach 「ければ」.
（例） おかしい → おかしければ （例） ない → なければ
- If I can meet with my friend, we will go shopping.
- If I had money, it would be good, huh?
- If it is fun, I'll go too.
- If it is not fun, I'll also not go.
- If you don't eat, you will become sick.
Past conditional using 「たら（ば）」
I call this next conditional the past conditional because it is produced by taking the past tense and just adding 「ら」. It is commonly called the
「たら」 conditional because all past-tense ends with 「た」 and so it always becomes 「たら」. Like the 「ば」 conditional, it is also a general conditional except it can
also be used with nouns and na-adjectives.
Conjugation Rule for 「たら（ば）」
First change the noun, adjective, or verb to its past tense and attach 「ら」
（例） 自動 → 自動だった → 自動だったら （例） 待つ → 待った → 待ったら （例） 忙しい → 忙しかった → 忙しかったら
（１） 暇だったら、遊びに行くよ。- If I am free, I will go play.
（２） 学生だったら、お金はありませんね。- If he's a student, he doesn't have any money huh?
For i-adjectives and verbs, it is very difficult to differentiate between the two types of conditionals,
and you can make life easier for yourself by considering them to be the same. However, if you must insist,
I searched around the web for an explanation of the difference that I can agree with.
Here is the original text. Basically, the 「たら」 conditional focuses on what happens after the condition.
This is another reason why I call this the past conditional because the condition is "in the past" (not literally) and we're interested in the result not the condition. The
「ば」 conditional, on the other hand, focuses on the conditional part.
Let's compare the difference in nuance.
（１） 友達に会えれば、買い物に行きます。- We will go shopping, if I can meet with my friend.
（２） 友達に会えたら、買い物に行きます。- If I can meet with my friend, we will go shopping.
（１） お金があればいいね。- It would be good, if I had money, huh?
（２） お金があったらいいね。- If I had money, it would be good, huh?
Going by the context we have, the 「~たら」 form sounds more natural for both examples because the it doesn't seem like we're really focusing on the condition itself.
We're probably more interested in what's going to happen once we meet the friend or how nice it would be if we had money.
The past conditional is the only type of conditional where the result can be in the past. It may seem strange to have an "if" when the result has
already taken place. Indeed, in this usage, there really is no "if", it's just a way of express surprise at the result of the condition. This has little to
do with conditionals but it is explained here because the grammatical structure is the same.
- When I went home, there was no one there! (unexpected result)
- As a result of going to America, I got really fat. (unexpected result)
You can elect use 「たらば」 instead of 「たら」 which means exactly the same thing except that it has a more formal nuance.
How does 「もし」 fit into all of this?
Some of you may be aware of the word 「もし」 which means "if" and may be wondering how it fits into all of this. Well, if you want to say a conditional, you need to
use one of the conditionals discussed above. 「もし」 is really a supplement to add a sense of uncertainty on whether the condition is true.
For instance, you might use it when you want to make an invitation and you don't want to presume like the following example.
- If by any chance it's ok with you, go to watch movie?
- If given that there's no time, tomorrow is fine as well. (Not certain whether there is no time)
Okay, I have a few comments to throw into the mix here...
- Responding to agiprasetiadi, I've seen 〜なくば a few times as well, and I'm fairly certain it's just an uncommon variation of 〜なければ (the negative ば form). Guessing from where I've seen it, it's probably archaic or literary.
That would make your example something like,"If you don't come alone, I'll go ahead and destroy this sword." Sounds like an anime-style threat.
- Maybe it's just a side-effect of putting more emphasis on the condition than the outcome, but using 〜ば or 〜なら seems to have some implication that if the condition is NOT met, the outcome will NOT happen. Stealing an example from above, while 楽しければ私も行く says outright that I will go if it is fun, it implies that if it's not fun, I'm not going anywhere.
- Regarding もし, I've heard, and it seems to make sense, that it also tends to be used when there's a long, rambling conditional, as sort of a heads-up so you can tell that it IS a conditional before getting all the way to the end of the phrase.
Credits to Tae Kim for this. His site is www.guidetojapanese.org . Whoever pasted this entry should at least credit him for courtesy. :/
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