Conditional question, なら [long read]

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Conditional question, なら [long read]

Post by ThePacster » Wed 12.02.2009 8:13 pm

Doing some finishing touches on my studying before Sunday. :) And conditionals have always been a rough spot for me so I wanted to come back to なら. I've seen it explained several different ways and it's throwing me off, so hopefully I can find some clarity here.

なら seems to have a few different uses, the first of which I'm fairly comfortable with is more of a contrasting when giving an opinion on a subject brought up by another. For example:


In that sense, makes perfect sense to me. This second usage I'm trying to understand seems difficult, perhaps because of the way its worded in my book, so let's see how much of it I'm grasping.

As far as I know なら is essentially a derivative of ~ば and requires a certain condition in the preceding clause, and should that condition be met, the following clause occurs. First, taken from Tae Kim's site, this can be considered a "contextual conditional" and always requires a context in which the conditional occurs. For example:


In this example, みんなが行く [everyone going] is the context in which the conditional 私も行く [me also going] occurs. Is this correct? I actually sat and read it several times and I want to be sure I understood it correctly. :?

Next, there are some restrictions to the clause preceding ~なら. This excerpt is from my grammar dictionary, which is causing me the most grief, so bare with me. When the clause preceding なら is non-past, なら cannot be used if it is nonsensical to suppose the truth of the clause preceding なら.

Now I'm a little dense in the head when it comes to grammar and literature, so I had to really stop and think about what this meant, and I think "supposing the truth" is what bothers me. Wording it differently, is it safe to assume this means, that if it does not make sense to believe the preceding clause with some uncertainty, that なら is ungrammatical? I was given three examples of where なら is ungrammatical.

If my understanding is correct, because everyday we know it will eventually be 10 o'clock, it does not make sense to be uncertain it becoming 10 o'clock. If anyone has a better explanation of what I've put here, please feel free. :)

I'm a little fuzzy on this one, but looking strictly at "あした雨が降る" you cannot assume with any certainty that it will rain, so it is not correct. However, if there was preceding context, for example, of watching the weather forecast, could なら be used?

In this sentence, the speaker knows they want to go. Because they know, there is no need to make an assumption with some uncertainty that the speaker wants to go.

Regarding the third sentence, however, they give an example that looks almost similar but is considered grammatical.


According to my grammar dictionary, "僕が行きたい" is counter factual in this example, but I'm not quite sure what they mean by that. If anyone can think of another example of this, I'd be very grateful.

Looking over this post I almost feel more confused than when I started, but I really want to make this sink in. I have a habit of over complicating little things, so I do apologize if I'm making a big case out of nothing. Also if I haven't made any sense at all, just let me know and I'll try again. :oops:

Thank you in advance to any and all replies.

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Yudan Taiteki
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Re: Conditional question, なら [long read]

Post by Yudan Taiteki » Wed 12.02.2009 11:04 pm

ThePacster wrote: Regarding the third sentence, however, they give an example that looks almost similar but is considered grammatical.


According to my grammar dictionary, "僕が行きたい" is counter factual in this example, but I'm not quite sure what they mean by that.
This sentence means something like "If I do want to go [I'm not sure if I do or not], I'll go by myself without telling anyone." That's what they mean by counterfactual here.
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Re: Conditional question, なら [long read]

Post by magamo » Sat 12.05.2009 7:38 am

Disclaimer: I don't think I made any sense in this post. I kind of doubt a person can understand this kind of thing by reading verbalized explanations in the first place. So read this only if you have plenty of spare time on your hands or have nothing else to do.

The conditional なら has several usages and meanings. But I think the most important thing is that when you say Xなら, there is a psychological distance between you and the imaginary situation X in your mind. As I posted in another thread, verbs in the past tense can also evoke a similar psychological distance; it can make you sound like you're observing a situation in the third person perspective. In the case of the conditional なら, you're looking at a "hypothetical" X from a distance because it's not a concrete fact.

In short:

Past tense -> already happened -> not directly related to me living in the present world,
Conditional なら -> uncertain -> not directly related to me living in the present world.

Things about future also have a similar distance effect because they're uncertain. The point is that all three have the "not happening around me right now" sense.

For example, when you say みんなが行くなら、私も行く, you are basically saying:

"I don't know if everyone will go, but if they do, I'll go too," "Everyone wants to go there, huh? OK. I think I'll go too," or something along those lines. Translation varies depending on the degree of the psychological distance the speaker feels. For example, the distance is shorter in the second example (or the speaker is less uncertain if you will), and he's kind of thinking everyone is going.

The relation between tense and distance is like:

psychological distance (caused by the past tense)
|                  みんなが行った/行っていた
|            (talking about the current thing using the past tense)
|           (You can find this distance technique used in novels etc.)
|(talking about the past)
|(usually there is a little distance)
|past-----------------------------------[you're here!]-----------------------------------future
|                                               みんなが行く
|                                         (talking about the future)
|                                     (usually there is a little distance)
|                    みんなが行っているなら              みんなが行くなら
|                 (conditional using a state of being)      (conditional in the future)
psychological distance (caused by uncertainty such as conditional なら and the future tense)

So, what happens if you say "行ったなら/行っていたなら"? Of course, you can say あなたが行ったなら、私も行く to mean:

I don't know if you have been there, but if you have, I'll go there too,
You have been there? Hm. I think I'll go there too,
and so on.

You simply used the basic past tense and basically shifted the time so the first half of the sentence describes a situation in the past. But when you say あなたが行ったなら、私も行った, there is almost always a longer psychological distance because of the two past tenses and the conditional; you look at the imaginary situation from far away, knowing that's not a fact or thinking that's never going to happen. So it means either:

If you had been there, I would go. (But you haven't. So I won't.)
If you had been there, I would have gone. (But you hadn't. So I didn't.)

This counter-factual sense can also arise when the second clause is in the present/future tense depending on context, your mood and whatnot.

Now I'll explain what10時になるなら、バスが来るはずです。means. If you apply the above rules, as the tense-distance figure suggests, 10時になるなら should imply that you're not sure if the situation "It's ten o'clock" can happen. So it should mean something like:

I don't know if this universe has the "10 o'clock" thing, but if it does, the bus should come.

So this kind of sentence only makes sense if it's a line in a fiction novel and such where the characters are sent to a different universe in which "It's 10 o'clock" may not happen.

If you want to say, "The bus should come at 10," you use the たら condition that can roughly mean "This hasn't been completed yet/This hasn't happened yet, but when/if it's done..." So10時になったら、バスが来るはずです。means

It's not 10 o'clock yet, but the bus should come when the situation "It's 10" happens.

Note that たら also has a lot of usages and whatnot, so don't think this is the only meaning.

Anyway, the biggest difference between the conditional なら and this completion-ish conditional たら used in kind of a future related sentence is that when you say なら, you're always standing in the present world while たら implies that you're looking at a future thing as if it was right in front of you, i.e., you put yourself in the (imaginary) future world and then look at the hypothetical situation. So you can say 10時になったら、バスが来る, which means "The bus comes at 10." You can be pretty sure about the condition and consequence (Uncertain conditions are also totally ok.).

                なら                        たら
              (You're here)                 (You put yourself here)
             (Generic condition)   (Condition: Something has completed or happens here)

The sentence "あした雨が降るなら試合はないでしょう" kind of makes sense, so I think it's kind of pedantic to say it's wrong. But the たら condition fits nicely in this kind of sentence here: あした雨が降ったら試合はないでしょう。

It's still sunny, but if it rains tomorrow, the game will be canceled.

The typical situation you say 明日雨が降るなら is when the clause following it is about the current thing. For instance, it's not unusual to say,


You're picturing the "it rains" situation happening in the future, but you're thinking it as a possible-but-uncertain situation. You're standing in the present world (because you're using the conditional なら) and looking at it from a distance in your mind. Since you're in the "now" time frame in your mind, your mind is working like:

Oh, it's going to rain tomorrow?? Hm. (Considering the current situation,) I guess I should go shopping now.

When you say 明日雨が降ったら, you're looking at the imaginary rain as if it's happening now because you're standing in the future world in your mind, so it's quite unusual to go back to the present world perspective in the next clause. That's why 明日雨が降ったら今日買い物ものに行く is unusual while 明日雨が降るなら今日買い物ものに行くis totally ok. By the same token, if the following clause is "(明日の)試合はないでしょう," you most likely say あした雨が降ったら試合はないでしょう instead of あした雨が降るなら試合はないでしょう. But then again, 明日の試合がない can have huge influence on today's schedule and such, so if you're thinking the "no game tomorrow" situation has a strong relation to today's things, you might say the あした雨が降るなら version. I think it's possible, especially when there is a hidden meaning like "so I don't have to prepare for the game today:"


As for 僕が行きたいなら、和子も行きたがっているはずです, if you apply the standard rules, it should mean something like:

I don't know whether I want or not, but if I do, I think Kazuko is dying to go (はずです can imply that she isn't, but here you're saying it in a literal sense.).

or if you kind of know you don't want, it can be

I don't know if I want, but if I did, Kazuko would also want to go. (implying she doesn't)

This would make sense in some cases, e.g., someone trying to sell a concert ticket says, "You can buy this ticket for $100. I'm sure you like it." You don't know what kind of concert it is because you're not familiar with that kind of stuff. But you know Kazuko, who has a personality/taste/whatever similar to yours, didn't show interest in it. So you kind of know you wouldn't like it, so you go "Hmm. I don't know if I want, but if I did, Kazuko would also wants to go (because we love the same kind of music, move, etc.). But it doesn't seem she's interested in it, so..."

About 僕が行きたいなら、誰にも言わずに一人で行くよ, if you analyze it the same way, you get the rough translation Yudan gave. I'm kind of thinking the author meant 僕は行きたいなら、誰にも言わずに一人で行くよ though... Well, it's not the purpose of this post to explain は vs. が, so I'll stop here.

Anyway, if the context is that you don't want to go, the translation would be "If I wanted to go, I'd go by myself without telling anyone," which is clearly counter-factual because the meaning is that "I don't want to go. And I wouldn't go." By the way, if I were to say the clearly counter-factual version, I'd say, 行きたかったら、誰にも言わずに一人で行くよ because that way it's clearer that I mean "I don't want to go. If I did, I would go."

So the sentences you gave are all grammatical in a sense, but some examples require more unusual contexts than others. Also, since it doesn't seem your textbook gives any context clue at all, every example sentence here is kind of ambiguous; it's difficult to know what kind of situation the author is assuming, and the degree of the psychological distance is quite unclear.
Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you criticize them, you are a mile away and you have their shoes.

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Re: Conditional question, なら [long read]

Post by blutorange » Sun 01.24.2010 6:01 pm

That fits with the "etymology" of nara simply being the Mizenkei (Impferfect) of the verb naru which originally only meant to be. And the Mizenkei had once been used to express a unreal/uncertain state or condition.
The ba added to the Izenkei and formerly also to the Mizenkei (which survives in naraba) is simply the voiced form of well-known particle "ha". The first was used for uncertain conditions, the second for real conditions already known to be true or false. Oh, and it is a long time ago when using these forms without ba was considered grammatical.

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Re: Conditional question, なら [long read]

Post by osirisFIVE » Wed 03.24.2010 12:02 am

@magamo That was an amazing response and a real interesting read. (Didn't want to quote your reply as it would clog the thread)

Totally gave me a lot to think about regarding なら and たら conditionals. Not very sure about the えば conditional also. Nevertheless, your response gave me quite a bit of insight regarding the psychological linguistics behind the Japanese language.

I was wondering whether you got this through a book that I can buy or this was picked up because you are a native Japanese speaker or you have been living in Japan for awhile.

If it's a book, I would definitely want to buy it.

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Re: Conditional question, なら [long read]

Post by writebook » Mon 03.29.2010 2:59 am


This one is counter-factual, but without knowing the context it's hard for me to understand what the situation.

Here's another example.
(Samwise: "You're trying to trick us and kill us, aren't you?")

(Aragorn: "If I wished to kill you, I could do so without tricking you.")

Here, Aragorn is speaking counter-factually about wanting to kill someone.

*this isn't an actual exact quote from the Lord of the Rings, but it's where I got the inspiration for this example.

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Re: Conditional question, なら [long read]

Post by writebook » Mon 03.29.2010 3:36 am

One correct way to say this would be "あした雨が降ったら".

If I see the sentence "あした雨が降るなら", the feeling I get is: while the speaker doesn't know whether it will rain or not, the weather for tomorrow is somehow determined already at this point, as if there is someone with a schedule for the rain.

「みんなが明日行くなら、僕も明日いく。」 (correct)
("I don't know if you're (planning to) go tomorrow or not, but if you're (planning to) go then I will too")
I think the reason this one works is because although the speaker doesn't know what the answer is (as to whether they will go tomorrow or not), the answer is already determined at this moment. He is talking about everyone's plan to go or not, which is already is there in their heads, even though the speaker doesn't know which one it is.

("I don't remember if tomorrow is a holiday or not, but if it is, school will be closed tomorrow.")
This is another example of how the speaker doesn't know the answer, but the answer of the question is already determined.

There are cases where the speaker not only does not know the answer, but the answer is not determined yet. You have to use ~たら or ~だら for these cases.
("If I die tomorrow, tell my wife I love her")
This is a case where not only does the speaker not know the answer, the answer is not determined yet. It depends on the outcome of the speaker's gunfight or adventure or whatever it is he is going to do.

By the way, なら can also be used for if-then decisions based on what you just heard, not just if-then decisions based on uncertain conditions. For example:
Person A :) : 「みんな、お祭りにいつ行く?」 (Guys, when are you going to the festival?)
Person B :ninja: : 「私は明日行く。」 (Me, I'm going tomorrow.)
Person C 8) : 「僕も明日いく。」 (I'm going tomorrow too.)
Person A :) : 「みんなが明日行くなら、僕も明日いく。」 (If everyone's going tomorrow, then I'll go tomorrow too.)

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