There are four ways to express “if” in japanese. Now don’t get put off by the idea just yet! That’s where the Nihongo Master’s learning system comes in and saves the day: we structure this podcast series very similarly to our online learning system, where we break down the grammar points for you step-by-step in the simplest way possible, and assist you even more with a few roleplaying scenarios filled with the key grammar.
This article is a recap of what we discussed in the episode. Most of the important points can be found in this article, but if you want to listen to the roleplaying scenarios, you’ve got to tune in to the full episode!
There are many ifs in life: If I turn off the light, it gets dark. If I get sick, I’ll eat medicine. I’ll go to the museum if I have time. Or…if someone wants to learn Japanese, I’ll introduce them to Nihongo Master!
It’s no doubt that the conditional form is crucial to learn for any language. After you get over this hurdle of the four ways to express it in Japanese, you can consider it as a level up in your Nihongo journey.
The first way of expressing conditional is to use the particle “to” (と). This particle also means “and”, and it’s also used as a way to connect nouns. But it is also the first conditional grammar we’re looking at.
The format is:
Condition (end with verb or i-adjective) と Constant Result
Condition (ends with noun or na-adjective) だと Constant Result
If (condition), (constant result).
(Constant result) if (condition).
This is used to express constant results. In other words, you’re talking about matter-of-facts — things that are unchanging, like one plus one is two. Usually, you use this for habitual actions, natural phenomenons or the like.
For example, “if I turn off the light, it gets dark.” This is obvious, isn’t it. When you do something, it leads to a result everyone expects. In Japanese, this kind of “if” uses the particle “to”.
The condition in this sentence is “turn off the light”. In Japanese, that’s “denki wo kesu” (電気を消す). The constant result of this sentence is “to get dark”, which is “kuraku naru” (暗くなる) in Japanese. The sentence you get is:
denki wo kesu to kuraku naru.
The next way of expressing the conditional is “ba” (ば). This form is used when you’re expressing hypothetical conditions. I use this the most. The format of this sentence is…
Conditional ば Action
If (condition), (action).
(Action) if (condition).
Here’s an example for this type of conditional sentence: “If I get sick, I’ll eat medicine.”
The conditional part of the sentence is “to get sick”, which is “byouki ni naru” (病気になる). This has to be conjugated accordingly (read below). The action part of this sentence is “to eat medicine”, which is “kusuri wo taberu” 病気になる. The full sentence is:
byouki ni nareba kusuri wo taberu.
Unlike the first one where there are no changes to the word before, this one’s a bit different. Here’s a general breakdown:
For verbs, to put it simply, you change the last う to えば. There’s a slight difference between ru-verbs and u-verbs. For ru-verbs, it’s simple: replace the ending る with れ, then add ば. The format is:
Ru-verb (minus る) + れば
Eg. 見る = 見 = 見れば
As for u-verbs, you replace the last う sound with the え sound, then add ば. The format is:
U-verb (minus last う sound) + えば
Eg. 話す = 話せ = 話せば
I-adjectives are similar to u-verbs: remove the last “i” sound and add “kereba”. The format is:
I-adjectives (minus い) + ければ
Eg. 寒い = 寒 = 寒ければ
Nouns and na-adjectives
The latest category is nouns and na-adjectives. They are so simple: no changes, just add de areba. The format is:
Noun/na-adjective + であれば
Eg. 靴 = 靴であれば
Moving on to the third way of expressing conditional, and that’s “tara” (たら). We use this to express a one-time result, but it’s similar to “ba” as it expresses a general conditional.
Most of the time, tara and ba are interchangeable — ba is used more generally and tara is usually talking about a one-time result. Grammatically, you can’t use ba when the conditional clause doesn’t talk about a potential, or if the subject for both clauses are the same. You use tara instead.
Some call it the past conditional as you use the past tense of any word:
[ Verb (たform) ] + ら + Action
[ Noun + だった ] + ら + Action
[ な-adjective (minus な) + だった ] + ら + Action
[ い-adjective (minus い) + かった ] + ら + Action
If […], (Action).
(Action) if […].
Let’s have an example sentence: “I’ll go to the museum if I have time.”
The action of this sentence is “to go to the museum”, and in Japanese it is “hatsubutsukan ni iku” (初物館に行く). The other part of the sentence is “to have time” which is “hima ga aru” (暇がある). This is the part where you have to conjugate using the format above, so you get “hima ga attara” (暇があったら). The full sentence you get is:
Jikan ga attara hakubutsukan ni iku.
The last way of expressing the conditional is nara (なら). We use this when talking about contextual conditions. This is used in response to a given context — compared to the other ones where the context is set by oneself, this one has to be set by someone else. With this form, we just add it to the plain form of any word.
[ Noun ] + なら + Action
[ Verb (casual form) / adjective (+ の) ] + なら + Action
The の is optional, and adds more emphasis.
If […], (Action).
(Action) if […].
So you can use it for this sentence: “if someone wants to learn Japanese, I’ll
introduce them to Nihongo Master.”
The conditional part of this sentence is “wants to learn Japanese”, and that’s “nihongo wo naraitai” (日本語を習いたい). The action part of this sentence is “to introduce them to Nihongo Master”, and that’s “nihongo masuta wo shoukai suru (日本語マスタを紹介する). Following the format, you will get this sentence:
Nihongo wo naraitai nara nihongo master wo shoukai suru.
We’ll briefly recap them:
“to” is used to express constant results and actual conditions
“ba” is used to express a hypothetical condition, and is one of the more general forms
“tara” is similar to “ba” as it’s also the other general conditional form, but it’s more for one-time results
“nara” is for contextual conditions
In the podcast episode, we used a few Japanese words. Here’s a list of them for your reference:
Denki (電気) — light
Kesu (消す) — To turn off
Kuraku naru (暗くなる) — to get dark
Byouki ni naru (病気になる) — to fall sick
Kusuri (薬) — medicine
Jikan ga aru (時間がある) — to have time. Jikan means time
Hakubutsukan (初物館) — museum
Narau (習う) — to learn or take lessons in
Shoukai suru (紹介する) — to introduce
Gakkou (学校) — school
Kaimono (買い物) — shopping
Ame ga furu (雨が降る) — to rain
Suzuki (鈴木) — cold
Kasa (傘) — umbrella
Uwagi (上着) — jacket
Kau (買う) — to buy
Wanpisu (ワンピス) — one piece, usually means casual dress
Doresu (ドレス) — dress
Ni atteiru (似合っている) — to suit someone
Betsu (別) — different
Onaji (同じ) — same
Igai (以外) — other than
Hoshii (欲しい) — want
If you like it, share it!
Now you know all the four ways to express the conditional in Japanese! If you learned a thing or two from this article, do check out the full podcast episode over at the Nihongo Master Podcast!