If: と/ば/たら/なら

One of the most acute frustrations you will experience in the early stages of learning Japanese is to find that ignorance of appropriate grammatical forms restricts you from talking exclusively about matters of fact. You are a master of the indicative. You can discuss what was, what is and what shall be, but you are unable to discuss what might be, what could be, or what should be.

At the intermediate level, you learned four expressions to express HYPOTHESIS. But you might be confused because each expressions means 'if'. So I would like to explain the differences.

1)普通形+と

A subordinate conjunction which marks a condition that brings about an UNCONTROLLABLE event or state. It is often used when speaking of nature-related facts, use of machines, giving directions (locations), etc.

例 a) 春になると、桜が咲きます。 

例 b) 右に曲がると、NTUCがあります。

2)A ば B

「~ば」generally expresses a general conditional relationship between the two prepositions represented by A and B. It is often used to give suggestions or advice, and take advice. 

例 a)今年JLPT N2を受けますが、どうすればいいですか?  

例 b)読解をたくさん練習すればいいです。

3)タ形+ら

「~たら」shows conditions of assumptions and meaning of 'after what came or occurred'. This expression is very often used in Kansai area (such as Osaka, Kyoto, or Kobe). As I was in Kobe when in my childhood, I often used this expressions and seldom use 「~ば」because it sounded too formal for me.

例 a)しいたけがきらいだったら、食べなくてもいいですよ。 

例 b)高校を卒業したら、東京の大学に行きたいなぁ。

4) 普通形+なら

Based on what other party has said about conditions, the state of something , and so on, by using the phrase 「なら」, the speaker's advice, will, feeling, opinion, request, etc, is expressed.

例 a)先生、今度日本でスキーをしたいんですが、どこがいいですか。 

例 b)スキーなら、長野がいいですよ。

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