なら

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

Construction: 

  • (Verb / い-Adjective) informal + (の) + なら
    • E.g. はなすなら [If it’s the case that X speaks…]
    • E.g. はなすのなら [If it were the case that X speaks…]
    • E.g. べるなら [If it’s the case that X eats…]
    • E.g. 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. しずかなら [If it’s the case that X is quiet…]
    • E.g. しずかのなら [If it were the case that X is quiet…]
    • E.g. 先生せんせいなら [If it’s the case that X is a teacher…]
    • E.g. 先生せんせいのなら [If it were the case that X is a teacher…]

Notes:

  • 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 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. きみなら出来できる。[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. 日本語にほんご日常にちじょう会話かいわならかる。[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になるならバスがるはずです。 [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. *明日あしたあめるなら試合しあいはないでしょう。[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. *ぼくきたいなら、クリスも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 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. ぼくきたいのならだれにもわずに一人ひとりくよ。[If I had wanted to go, I would have gone by myself without telling anyone.] 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ったなら一郎いちろうがいた。[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. ニューヨークへくならリンカーンセンターが面白おもしろいですよ。[If you are going to New York, the Lincoln Center is interesting.] This example expresses an opinion.
    • E.g. ニューヨークへくならリンカーンセンターへきます。[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 particle is included, Sentence 1 is interpreted as a counterfactual statement.
    • E.g. あめったのなら試合しあい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. あめったなら試合しあい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.

Example Sentences:

松田まつだるならぼくかない。[If it’s true that Matsuda will come, I won’t go.]

シカゴへくのならバスできなさい。[If you’re going to Chicago, go by bus.]

ジョンがたのならぼくかえる。[If John has come, I’m going home.]

そんなにたかいのならえません。[If it’s that expensive, I can’t buy it.]

山田やまださんがきなら手紙てがみいたらどうですか。[If you like Mr. Yamada, why don’t you write him a letter?]

高橋たかはし先生せんせいならそのことをっているでしょう。[If it’s Takahashi-sensei, he’ll probably know that.]

WILD Examples:

The rap line at 1:52 goes as follows: きみのためならなんでもしちゃう [If it’s for you, then I’ll do absolutely anything] At 2:06, you can hear the line: 二人ふたり一緒いっしょなら, You Make Me Feel So Right [If we’re together with just the two of us, you make me feel so right.]
Listen for this line at 1:22: もしもこのぼく神様かみさまならば、すべてをめてもいいなら七日間なのかかん 世界せかいを作つくなようなまねはきっとぼくはしないだろう [If I were a god, and if it were the case that I could decide anything, I certainly don’t think I would copy something like making the world in 7 days]
Listen to this line from 2:51: もしもえたなら素敵すてきしあわせがあなたにるわ [If it’s the case that you’ve met him, a splendid happiness will come to you] The movement verb る is a hint that this is an example of に (Direction).
Listen to this line from 1:57: これほど設計せっけい才能さいのうがないなら天文学者てんもんがくしゃ目指めざせばよかったよ [If it were the case that I didn’t have such a talent for planning, it would have been good if I had tried to become an astronomer.]

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