Table of Contents
- The Basics
- Patterns of Use
- Beyond the Basics
- Common Mistakes
When an い-adjective ends in 〜ければ, it is said to be in the "conditional form". We use this form in the same sort of situations as we would use "if" or "when" in English. Although it’s widely used in casual conversations, 〜ければ is also appropriate in formal settings and in writing.
To attach 〜ければ to an い-adjective, simply drop the final 〜い from the adjective and then add 〜ければ. This works with both positive and negative adjectives.
positive (cute): かわい
い+ ければ → かわいければ (if cute)
negative (not cute): かわいくな
い+ ければ → かわいくなければ (if not cute)
All い-adjectives conjugate this way. Just don't forget that the stem form of いい (good) is よ, so its conditional form is よければ.
Patterns of Use
When 〜ければ is used in a sentence, you can separate the sentence into two distinct parts: the condition and the result. Usually, the conditional part of the sentence (marked with 〜ければ) comes before the result.
- If it's delicious, it will sell well.
In spoken Japanese, the conditional part sometimes follows the result. This gives the impression that the condition is some kind of afterthought.
- I think it will sell well… if it’s delicious, that is.
〜ければ for General Truths
We can use 〜ければ to point out something that definitely happens under a certain condition. Basically, we are saying that "when this thing is true, this other thing will definitely happen." For this reason, the sentence is never used in the past form—since universal truths are true all the time.
In this use, we are talking about general facts, or things that are believed to be facts by the person speaking. So 〜ければ is commonly used in proverbs, which makes sense when we consider that proverbs generally express things that are taken to be universally true:
- All's well that ends well.
〜ければ for Habits
〜ければ can also be used to talk about repeated actions that happen—or happened—under a certain condition.
- I go for a run outside every day, if the weather's nice.
In this example, the condition is nice weather. Whenever this condition arises, the habit is inevitable (I go jogging).
This also works in the past, so we can use this form to talk about past habits in exactly the same way. Let's look at the jogging example again, but imagine that you don't go jogging anymore:
- When I was a child I used to go for a run outside every day, if the weather was nice.
Notice that here we have to change the tense in both parts of the sentence in English, whereas in Japanese it's only the second part of the sentence that changes to the past tense, marked by 〜ました.
In more old-fashioned—and written—Japanese, it's common to add ものだ to the end of the second part of the sentence:
- I used to go jogging every day, if the weather was nice.
This use of ものだ emphasizes the fact that we are recalling the "old days."
Beyond the Basics
〜ければ for Future Uncertainty
So far, we've seen how 〜ければ can be used to talk about things that are definitely true in the present and the past. But what if we want to talk about things we're not sure about? In Japanese, we can still use this form, and we can add words like もし, だろう, でしょう, に違いない, はずだ, or かもしれない to make it clear that we are not 100% sure that the condition will happen in the first place. Depending on the words that are added, we may not be sure of the result either.
- If the weather's bad, the excursion will be cancelled.
- If the weather's bad, the excursion will probably be cancelled.
〜ければ for Intentions and Future Wishes
To talk about something we intend to do, we can also use 〜ければ, this time adding つもり on the end of the second part:
- If it's good quality, I plan to buy it.
This also works with 〜ましょう, the Japanese equivalent of "let's".
- If it's good quality, let's buy it.
The noun form of some verbs look like い-adjectives. For example, 違う (to be different/incorrect) becomes 違い(difference/error) in its noun form. Since 違い looks like an い-adjective, you might be tempted to use 〜ければ when you want to make it conditional. However, since 違う a verb, it requires a different way of forming the conditional.
- ❌ 違ければ、言ってください。
- If it’s different/incorrect, please tell me.
This mistake is not limited to Japanese learners. You will sometimes see younger native Japanese speakers using 違い like an い-adjective quite, both intentionally and unintentionally.