Table of Contents
- What Is The Conditional ば Form?
- The ば Form for General Truths
- The ば Form for Habits
- The ば Form for the Future
- The ば Form for Hypothetical Situations in the Present
- The ば Form for Hypothetical Situations in the Past
- The ば Form in Questions
What Is The Conditional ば Form?
The suffix 〜ば, which is also known as the ば form, creates the conditional form of Japanese verbs. All verbs that are in this form end in 〜ば. For example, 食べる (to eat) becomes 食べれば (if I eat), 飲む (to drink) becomes 飲めば (if I drink), and する (to do) becomes すれば (if I do) once they are in the conditional form. If you want to know more about how to change verbs into this form, check out our dedicated page.
This form is used when we would use "if" or "when" in English. Some kind of phrase with 〜ば can be used as an equivalent for all of the different types of conditionals in English. By this we mean that 〜ば can actually be translated as "whenever it does," "if it does," "if it did," and even "if it had done," depending on the sentence.
The verb that is in the ば form is always the condition, and whatever is in the other part of the sentence is the result of that condition. So for example, in the following sentence, having time (時間があれば) is the condition, and making cookies (クッキーを作る) is the result:
- If I have time, I'll make cookies.
The ば form is used in a very similar way to 〜たら, which is also more or less the equivalent of "if…" in English. The most obvious difference between the two is that 〜たら is more common in speaking, whereas 〜ば is more common in writing. The ば form is still used a lot in speaking too, but generally has a less casual tone. There are some other subtle differences between the two, so we'll mention some of them as we look at all the different ways we can use 〜ば.
The ば form also overlaps quite a bit with と used for strong causal relationships. This use of と, though, is limited to when a result is inevitable, so it's much closer to the English "when." The ば form, on the other hand, covers both "when" and "if" in English.
As we will see in this post, 〜ば covers all kinds of situations, depending on the context and which words we combine it with. Let's take a more detailed look at how this handy form can be used.
The ば Form for General Truths
We can use 〜ば in situations when we are pointing out something that definitely happens under a certain condition. In English, we'd generally use "when" in this situation. In Japanese, both と and 〜たら can also be used. Basically we are saying that "when this thing happens, 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.
Fun fact: for fans of English grammar, this use is the equivalent of the English "zero conditional":
- When you multiply three by two, you get six.
- When you have money, you can do anything.
In more old-fashioned Japanese, it is common to add ものだ at the end of the second part of the sentence (the part telling us the result):
- If you keep believing, your dreams will come true.
These examples are either general facts or things that are believed to be facts by the person speaking. In the same vein, 〜ば is commonly used in proverbs, which makes sense when we consider that proverbs generally express things that are taken to be universally true:
- If piled together, even dust becomes a mountain.
- If you take too much, medicine becomes poison.
The ば Form for Habits
The ば form can also be used to talk about repeated actions that happen under a certain condition. So if you are lucky enough to go to Sapporo on a regular basis, you might say:
- Whenever I go to Sapporo, I eat soup curry.
Or if you're a big Terrace House fan, you might say:
- Whenever I have time, I always watch Terrace House.
In the first example, the condition is going to Sapporo. In the second example, the condition is having time. Whenever these conditions arise, the habit is inevitable (we eat soup curry, or we watch Terrace House).
It's worth mentioning that words like いつも, 絶対 and 必ず are often used together with 〜ば when we're talking about habits to give that extra nuance of high frequency or certainty.
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 that soup curry example again, but imagine that sadly you no longer make regular trips to Sapporo:
- Whenever I went to Sapporo, I used to eat soup curry.
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.
Again, in more old-fashioned Japanese, it's common to add ものだ to the end of the second part of the sentence:
- Whenever I went to Sapporo, I used to eat soup curry.
- When I was in high school, whenever I had time I used to go out with my friends.
These sentences both convey a feeling that we're talking about "the old days."
The ば Form for the Future
So far, we've seen how the ば form 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 add words like もし, だろう, でしょう, に違いない, はずだ and 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. For English grammar fans, this use is the equivalent of the English first conditional.
- If it rains, the excursion will be cancelled.
- If it rains, the excursion will probably be cancelled.
In this example, the condition is in the future, but it's also possible to use this for present conditions:
- If that's really what he thinks, he would say it directly.
In this case, we're talking about a present condition, but we're expressing doubt that the condition is really true. In other words, we have a feeling that might not be what he really thinks.
The ば Form for Hypothetical Situations in the Present
We can also use the ば form to talk about things that are not actually true. This one is the equivalent of the second conditional in English.
So if we want to imagine what would happen in an imaginary situation, we can use this form. For example:
- If I lived in Sapporo, I'd eat soup curry every day.
The ば Form for Hypothetical Situations in the Past
We can also use the ば form to talk about an alternative reality in the past. In other words, we imagine what would have happened in different circumstances. In this case, the second part of the sentence is in the past. This is the equivalent of the third conditional in English.
- If only I'd gone to Sapporo I could have eaten soup curry.
- If I'd come by bike, I would have been in time.
- If only you'd asked me, I would have explained properly.
When using 〜ば for hypothetical situations in the past, it's common for のに to be added to the end, as you can see in a couple of the example sentences above. This reinforces the nuance that the result didn't happen, but it could have if only the condition had been in place.
The ば Form in Questions
We can use this form in combination with the question particle か, or a question word plus the particle かな (I wonder), to make questions:
- If I take this green medicine, will I get better?
- I wonder where I can eat soup curry.
That's all we have about the ば form, but if you want to learn about more conditional forms, there's also なら and 〜たら, not to mention the conditional form of い-adjectives. If you take a small break, you'll have energy to learn all those next.