Table of Contents
- The Basics
- Beyond the Basics
〜ば is a suffix that adds a conditional meaning to verbs. In other words, adding 〜ば to a verb adds an "if" meaning. There are actually a few different conditional forms in Japanese, including 〜たら and 〜と. Each of these means something like "if", but has a subtle and unique nuance that you can read about on their respective pages. 〜ば tends to be a bit more formal and used in written Japanese compared to 〜たら, but honestly it mostly depends on the context it's used in. 〜と has a more restricted use than 〜ば and 〜たら, because it tends to be limited to conditions that have an inevitable result. It's more of a "when X happens, Y happens" meaning. But don't worry about that too much! If you're here to read about 〜ば, you're in the right place!
Conjugating Verbs to Take 〜ば
|Godan||会う → 会えば
立つ → 立てば
写す → 写せば
割る → 割れば
書く → 書けば
泳ぐ → 泳げば
死ぬ → 死ねば
学ぶ → 学べば
休む → 休めば
|Ichidan||食べる → 食べれば
起きる → 起きれば
閉じる → 閉じれば
|Irregular|| 来る → 来れば
する → すれば
The conjugation of this form is very regular, which makes it easy to conjugate. In fact, we can apply exactly the same rule to every single Japanese verb, including 来る and する, which usually behave differently from the rest of the pack.
All we need to do is take the plain form of the verb (that's the one that always ends in a hiragana from the う-line, like 会う and 行く) and switch it to the え-line:
The second and final step is to add 〜ば:
う+ え + ば = 会えば
く+ け + ば = 行けば
If you prefer to think of this in terms of romaji, remove the final "u" sound from any verb, and replace it with "eba." So for example, the verb for "to meet," 会う (au) becomes 会えば (aeba), and the verb for "to write," 書く(kaku) becomes 書けば (kakeba). What about 食べる (to eat)? Exactly the same! 食べる (taberu) turns into 食べれば (tabereba).
What does "Conditional" Mean?
Let's start things out by digging deeper into what "conditional" means. Essentially, we're talking about a sentence that has two parts (or clauses): a condition, and a result of that condition. The verb that takes 〜ば 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.
If you understand what conditional means, move on to the next section. Hey wait, that's a conditional sentence itself! Let's see how it looks in Japanese:
- If you understand what "conditional" means, move on to the next section.
Ok, but now we really mean it. Move along!
Beyond the Basics
Now that we know what conditional means and how to attach 〜ば to a verb, let's look at a few different contexts of use.
〜ば 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." Since universal truths are true all the time, these types of sentences are only ever in the non-past form, never the past form.
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.
〜ば 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."
〜ば 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.
〜ば for Hypothetical Situations
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.
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.
〜ば in Questions
- If I take this green medicine, will I get better?
- I wonder where I can eat soup curry.