735 - なら

JLPT N4: なら (if [it is the case that])

Learning conditionals is not easy. As such, I've been putting off lessons like this for too long.

In this lesson, we're looking at なら, which I like to think of as meaning "if (it is the case that)."

An example:


A:
ちょっとコンビニに行ってきます。
ちょっと コンビニ に いって きます。
I’m gonna run to the convenience store real quick.
Literally: “a little bit + convenience store + に + go (and) + come.”


B:
あ、コンビニに行くなら、歯ブラシを買ってきてくれませんか。
あ、 コンビニ に いく なら、 はブラシ を かって きて くれません か。
Oh, if you’re going to the convenience store, could you also buy a toothbrush for me?
Literally: “ah, + convenience store + に + go + if (it is the case that), + toothbrush + を + buy (and) + come (and) + won’t give (me) + か.”


There are quite a few conditional constructions in Japanese. Namely, we have to learn と、~たら、~ば、and なら.

These all have slightly differing nuances and uses.

なら, which we're looking at in this lesson, usually follows this pattern:

The speaker is presented with a situation (=S1) and then states an opinion, order, hope, wish, decision, etc. (S2).

This is why it translates nicely to "if (it is the case that)." We say "If it is the case that S1, S2," where S2 is some kind of order, wish, hope, etc.

Let's see how that worked in our example above...


S1 is the condition:

コンビニに行く
コンビニ に いく
go to the convenience store
Literally: “convenience store + に + go”


Then this is followed by a request (S2):

歯ブラシを買ってきてくれませんか。
はブラシ を かって きて くれません か。
Could you buy a toothbrush for me?
Literally: “toothbrush + を + buy (and) + come (and) + won’t give (me) + か.”


S1 なら, S2
If it is the case that S1, S2.


コンビニに行くなら、歯ブラシを買ってきてくれませんか。
コンビニ に いく なら、 はブラシ を かって きて くれません か。
If you’re going to the convenience store, could you also buy a toothbrush for me?
Literally: “convenience store + に + go + if (it is the case that), + toothbrush + を + buy (and) + come (and) + won’t give (me) + か.”


Now the hard part. We had this dialogue:


A:
ちょっとコンビニに行ってきます。
ちょっと コンビニ に いって きます。
I’m gonna run to the convenience store real quick.
Literally: “a little bit + convenience store + に + go (and) + come.”



B:
あ、コンビニに行くなら、歯ブラシを買ってきてくれませんか。
あ、 コンビニ に いく なら、 はブラシ を かって きて くれません か。
Oh, if you’re going to the convenience store, could you also buy a toothbrush for me?
Literally: “ah, + convenience store + に + go + if (it is the case that), + toothbrush + を + buy (and) + come (and) + won’t give (me) + か.”


Why couldn't Person B have said 行く (いくと)、行ったら (いったら)、or 行け (いけば) in this situation? Don't they all mean "if (you) go?"

I don't even know why I'm bringing this up because answering a question like this is a nightmare for me.

There are two main reasons that なら is the most natural here: (1) Person A has stated that they are going to the convenience store and (2) S2 is a request.

Of と、~たら、~ば、and なら, only なら takes the statement or appearance of the listener and makes it into the condition stated in S1. In other words, since S1 (=コンビニ行く) is the listener's statement (=ちょっとコンビニに行ってきます), only なら is natural as a connector of S1 and S2.

If Person B were saying this phrase without the input of Person A, this sentence is not wrong (but not very natural):


コンビニに行ったら、歯ブラシを買ってきてくれませんか。
コンビニ に いったら、 はブラシ を かって きて くれません か。
If you go to the convenience store, could you also buy a toothbrush for me?
Literally: “convenience store + に + if/when (you) go, + toothbrush + を + buy (and) + come (and) + won’t give (me) + か.”


We could not, however, use と because と is never followed by a volitional phrase, request, decision, command, etc.). Instead, it is typically used to show that S2 invariably occurs whenever S1 occurs.


✕ コンビニに行くと、歯ブラシを買ってきてくれませんか。
✕ コンビニ に いく と、 はぶらし を かって きて くれません か。
If [When] you go to the convenience store, could you also buy a toothbrush for me?
✕ Literally: “convenience store + に + if/when (you) go, + toothbrush + を + buy (and) + come (and) + won’t give (me) + か.”


と is used in sentences like the following one, which we'll see in an upcoming lesson:


暗くなると、たくさんの星が見えます。
くらくなる と、 たくさん の ほし が みえます。
When it gets dark, you can see a lot of stars.
Literally: "dark + if/when (it) becomes, + many / a lot + の + stars + が + are visible."


Hold on. What about ~ば? Why can't we say:


✕ コンビニに行けば、歯ブラシを買ってきてくれませんか。
✕ コンビニ に いけば、 はブラシ を かって きて くれません か。
If you go to the convenience store, could you also buy a toothbrush for me?
✕ Literally: “convenience store + に + if (you) go, + toothbrush + を + buy (and) + come (and) + won’t give (me) + か.”


...?

Curse you for asking me these difficult questions!

The simple answer: No. It's wrong.

The complex answer: There are some situations in which ~ば can be followed by a volitional phrase or a request. However, unless the verb being used with ~ば is negative (i.e. ~なければ) or is a verb expressing a state (=ある, いる, できる), Vば cannot be followed by a volitional phrase or a request.

We'll see an example of this in the very next lesson. You can't say:


✕ もしのどが渇けば、常温の水を飲んでください。
✕ もし のど が かわけば、 じょうおん の みず を のんで ください。
✕ If you get thirsty, please drink room-temperature water.
✕ Literally: “if + if (you) get thirsty (=throat + が + if it gets dry), + normal temperature + の + water + を + drink (and) + please.”


But you can say:


〇 もしのどが渇いたら、常温の水を飲んでください。
〇 もし のど が かわいたら、 じょうおん の みず を のんで ください。
If you get thirsty, please drink room-temperature water.
〇 Literally: “if + if (you) get thirsty (=throat + が + if it gets dry), + normal temperature + の + water + を + drink (and) + please.”


Well, have I confused you yet?

It might make you feel better (or worse) to know that I still have trouble using the correct conditional at the correct moment. I don't have time to think about all this stuff when I'm having a conversation!


🚧 Construction 🚧

This, luckily, isn't too complicated. Just put a word in plain form before なら. It can be a verb, noun, na-adjective, i-adjective — whatever.

Plain-Form Wordなら


Another example of this in action:


福田さん、顔色が悪いですね。体調が悪いなら、帰ってもいいですよ。
ふくだ さん、 かおいろ が わるい です ね。 たいちょう が わるい なら、 かえっても いい です よ。
You don’t look so good, Fukuda-san. If you’re not feeling well, you can go home.
Literally: “Fukuda-san, + looking unwell (=face-color + が + bad) + です + ね. + sick / not feeling well (=body-condition + が + bad) + if (it is the case that), + it’s OK to go home (=even if [you] go home + good) + です + よ.”


なら is appropriate here because (1) the condition in S1 is based on the listener's appearance and (2) S2 contains some advice (well, sort of — permission to do something).

We can also assume that S1 in the following sentence was based on something the listener did or said which led the speaker to believe that he or she does not like reading. And again, S2 has a bit of advice:


読書が苦手なら、オーディオブックはどうですか?
どくしょ が にがて なら、 オーディオブック は どう です か?
If you’re not a fan of reading, why don’t you try audiobooks?
Literally: “reading + が + not good at / not liked + if (it is the case that), + audiobook + は + how + です + か?”




🚧 Even More Construction 🚧

It is also acceptable to insert or directly before なら without changing the meaning of the phrase. の would be used in a stiffer-sounding sentence. ん would be used in a casual, spoken sentence:

Plain-Form Wordの/んなら


Here's an example of this:


A:
もうお腹いっぱい。
もう おなか いっぱい。
I’m already full.
Literally: “already + stomach + full.”


B:
えっ、もう?残すなら、私にちょうだい。
えっ、 もう? のこす んなら、 わたし に ちょうだい。
What? Already? If you’re not gonna finish it, let me have it.
Literally: “huh(?), + already? + leave (some) over + if (it is the case that), + I + に + please (give).”




なら has another use that we might as well mention in this lesson: Adding emphasis to a word.

For example:


A:
クロエさん見ませんでしたか?
クロエ さん みませんでした か?
Have you seen Chloe-san?
Literally: “Chloe-san + did not see + か?”


B:
クロエさんなら、とっくに帰りましたよ。
クロエ さん なら、 とっくに かえりました よ。
Chloe-san went home a long time ago.
Literally: “Chloe-san + if (it is the case that), + a long time ago / already + went home + よ.”


It's hard to translate the change in nuance occurring thanks to なら here. I almost put "Chloe-san" in italics in Person B's sentence, but in English that would indicate that "Chloe-san" is stressed by Person B, which would change the nuance of the sentence (the speaker would appear to be emphasizing that someone else is still here).

In the end, I figured that simply using "Chloe-san" instead of "She" in Person B's sentence would be enough to show the nuance being elicited by クロエさんなら.


We still have a lot of conditionals to get through.

Hang in there. They'll get easier.

In the meantime, maybe review these two lessons:
- [NDL #484] - JLPT N4: ~たら (if)
- [NDL #491] - JLPT N4: ~たら (after)




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