なら Japanese Grammar Lesson
Grammar Type: Conjunction
Essential Meaning: If it is true that / If it is the case that / If it were the case that
- (Verb / い-Adjective) informal + (の) + なら
- E.g. 話すなら [If it’s the case that X speaks…]
- E.g. 話すのなら [If it were the case that X speaks…]
- E.g. 食べるなら [If it’s the case that X eats…]
- E.g. 食べるのなら [If it were the case that X eats…]
- (な-Adjective Stem / Noun) + [X / だった] + (の) + なら
- E.g. 静かなら [If it’s the case that X is quiet…]
- E.g. 静かのなら [If it were the case that X is quiet…]
- E.g. 先生なら [If it’s the case that X is a teacher…]
- E.g. 先生のなら [If it were the case that X is a teacher…]
- To understand the meaning of なら, it’s important to note that なら is a simplified version of ならば, which is the conditional form of the copula だ. So in essence, expressions such as Sentence 1 なら Sentence 2 are general conditional statements in which Sentence 1 represents a supposition that some past or present fact is true or will become true in the future, and Sentence 2 represents a proposition that is or will be the case under that supposition (e.g. “If it’s true that X is the case, then Y“, “Supposing that X occurs, then Y“, “If it is true that X, then Y“).
- Because of its relationship with the ば conditional, なら generally carries a contrastive connotation (i.e. “If X is the case, then Y. But if X is not the case, then not Y“).
- E.g. 君なら出来る。[If it’s you, you can definitely do it. (But if it were someone else, they wouldn’t be able to do it).]
- E.g. 日本語は日常会話なら分かる。[When it comes to Japanese, if it’s everyday conversation I can understand (But if it’s not, I likely can’t understand).]
- A non-past なら statement is acceptable only in situations when it is reasonable to make a supposition about the truth of Sentence 1. Specifically, a non-past なら statement is in unacceptable when (1) Sentence 1 never fails to be true, so there is no reason to make a supposition about what happens if it is or isn’t true, (2) The truth of Sentence 2 cannot be reasonably supposed by the speaker, and (3) The speaker already knows whether or not Sentence 1 is true, so there is no need to make a supposition.
- E.g. *10時になるならバスが来るはずです。 [If it becomes 10 o’clock, I expect the bus to arrive.] This is unacceptable because the time will never fail to become 10 o’clock, so there’s no need to make a supposition about whether or not the time will become 10 o’clock.
- E.g. *明日雨が降るなら試合はないでしょう。[If it rains tomorrow, the game probably won’t happen.] This example is unacceptable because the speaker is making an unreasonable assumption that the match will be cancelled.
- E.g. *僕が行きたいなら、クリスも行きたがっているはずです。 [If it’s the case that I want to go, I expect that Chris will want to go too.] The speaker is already aware of his or her internal feelings, so it’s nonsensical to make a supposition about whether he or she wants to go.
- なら can also be used when Sentence 1 is counterfactual (i.e ”If Sentence 1 were / had been true, then Sentence 2“). Note that when using なら counterfactually, the nominalizer の usually precedes ならto emphasize this counter-factuality (の can also be optionally used with non-counter-factual なら sentences). Also, only counterfactual statements that could possibly be true can be used with なら. Otherwise, ~たら is used instead.
- E.g. 僕が行きたいのならだれにも言わずに一人で行くよ。[If I had wanted to go, I would have gone by myself without telling anyone.] の hints to the fact that this usage of なら is counterfactual.
- Due to the hypothetical nature of なら, it cannot be used to express situations in which Sentence 1 is the origin or cause of Sentence 2.
- E.g. *マークのアパートへ行ったなら一郎がいた。[When I went to Mark’s apartment, Ichiro was there.] This example is unacceptable because Sentence 1 (i.e. going to Mark’s apartment) brings about the discovery of Ichiro being there.
- なら can also be used when Sentence 2 expresses a present state or the speaker’s volition, judgement, command, request, et cetera as long as Sentence 2 is non-past.
- E.g. ニューヨークへ行くならリンカーンセンターが面白いですよ。[If you are going to New York, the Lincoln Center is interesting.] This example expresses an opinion.
- E.g. ニューヨークへ行くならリンカーンセンターへ行きます。[If I go to New York, I’ll visit the Lincoln Center.] This example expresses volition.
- E.g. テープレコーダーを買うならテープをくれるはずです。[If you buy a tape recorder, I expect that they’ll give you some tape.] This example expresses a judgement.
- If Sentence 2 is in the past tense, Sentence 1 must also be in the past tense. In such cases, if the の particle is included, Sentence 1 is interpreted as a counterfactual statement.
- E.g. 雨が降ったのなら試合はなかったはずです。 [If it were true that it had rained, I expect that there wouldn’t have been a game.] This example is counterfactual. There wasn’t actually any rain.
- E.g. 雨が降ったなら試合はなかったはずです。 [If it’s true that it rained, I expect that there was no game.] This example is not counterfactual.
松田が来るなら僕は行かない。[If it’s true that Matsuda will come, I won’t go.]
シカゴへ行くのならバスで行きなさい。[If you’re going to Chicago, go by bus.]
ジョンが来たのなら僕は帰る。[If John has come, I’m going home.]
そんなに高いのなら買えません。[If it’s that expensive, I can’t buy it.]
山田さんが好きなら手紙を書いたらどうですか。[If you like Mr. Yamada, why don’t you write him a letter?]
高橋先生ならそのことを知っているでしょう。[If it’s Takahashi-sensei, he’ll probably know that.]
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