How to conjugate Japanese conditional form

I suppose the gap between the pre-intermediate level and the beginner level is somewhere around the conditional form. As for Japanese, the conditional form requires you to know basic verb classification and conjugation rules. When you start to create your first Japanese sentences you naturally want to use conditional form, because this is a common way to express ourselves in everyday life. I would say the conditional form and for example the past tense have the same priority in the learning queue, but, since the conditional form relies on the past tense form I strongly recommend you to master past tense first and later move on to conditional.

Japanese conditional rules are not more difficult than the English rules

On the other hand there is one way to express conditional clauses, which does not requires you to know past tense Japanese conjugation, so you don’t necessarily have to follow the order. In the following few chapters I will explain you a few common ways to create Japanese conditional clauses.

They are equally important, so pay attention to all of them. I will be using kanjis to write Japanese words, however I will be using hiragana and katakana as well to show you the readings of the given word. As such my article doesn’t require you to be able to read kanji.

Mastering kanji seems to be impossible for the first-timers, but I can tell you it is not. Moreover it helps you in many different ways, when learning Japanese. When I started to learn this amazing language, basically the kanjis grabbed my attention. They are not only beautiful as they are, but, if you know enough of them, they help your brain to create “images” of the surrounding world, which makes it easier to remember vocabulary. Therefore my advice is to start learning them from day zero, and try to study Japanese words by learning kanjis on the side. Obviously, if you would like to pass any advanced Japanese language examination, such as for example the JLPT, you will need to memorize a couple of thousands.

If we compare English and Japanese conditional forms, they have some significant differences. When you make a conditional sentence in English, you (usually) need to conjugate the given verb in a specific past tense form. As for Japanese conditional clauses, verbs have designate forms for conditional. Consequently (it might not be clear for the first time), the equivalent of “If” can be omitted from the beginning of the sentence.

Why am I talking about this?

When I started to learn Japanese, I was curious about the word “If”(same issue with AND). If you look it up in the dictionary you will find a couple of words like: もし、もしかしたら, which indeed mean the same, but you hear them very rarely in live Japanese speech. In addition beginner foreign learners( including me back then) tend to put “If” at the beginning of their Japanese sentences most of the time, which sounds odd a bit. This is because “IF” itself is hardly used in live Japanese.

Finally let’s see the simplest solution.

If you would like to express something similar to the English 0th conditional, just put a と between your two clauses. This can be used when you are talking about:

General truth:

  • 給料「きゅうりょう」を貰「もら」わないとお金「おかね」がなくなる。
  • If I don’t get my salary I run out of money.

Scientific fact:

  • シュレーディンガー方程式「ほうていしき」を解「と」くと量子「りょうし」システムのエネルギーを得「え」れる。
  • If we solve the Schrodinger equation, we get the energy of a quantum system.
  • 水「みず」は熱「ねっ」せられると蒸気「じょうき」になる。
  • Water changes into vapor when it is heated.

And now let’s see the “proper” conditional form of Japanese verbs, which requires you to conjugate them. These are the case when you would use “When X [does]” or “If X were to [do]” in English. As for the conjugation rules you will need the previously learnt “ta-form”. If you need more practice, feel free to test your knowledge, with my free online ta-form test or switch back to a previous teaching material. For those who have already learnt it, I would like to reiterate the rules:

  • Rule for group 1: You need to change the final hiragana based on the following list:
  • る、う、つ ー> った
  • む、ぶ、ぬ ー> んだ
  • ぐ ー> いだ
  • す ー> した
  • く  ー> いた

For example:

  • 送る(おくる)(to send) ー 送った 
  • 買う(かう) (to buy)ー 買った 
  • 打つ(うつ) (to hit)ー 打った 
  • 飲む(のむ) (to drink)ー 飲んだ 
  • 死ぬ(しぬ) (to die)ー 死んだ 
  • 脱ぐ(ぬぐ) (to take off)ー 脱いだ 
  • 貸す(かす) (to lend)ー 貸した 
  • 書く(かく) (to write)ー 書いた 

  • Rule for group 2: You need to replace 'る' with 'た' at the end of the verb

For example:

  • 食べる(たべる) ー 食べた(to eat)

  • Rule for group 3:
  • する ー した
  • 来る (くる) ー 来た (きた)
Read more >> How to connect two verbs in Japanese

When you would like to create general conditional Japanese sentences, you will only need to put a ら after the ta-form of the given verb, which makes a (usually 1st) conditional clause. Let me show you a few examples:

  • 他「ほか」の女「おんな」の子「こ」と遊「あそ」んだら、彼女「かのじょ」が怒「おこ」る。「遊ぶー遊んだー遊んだら」
  • If he was hanging out with other girls, his girlfriend would be angry.
  • 日本酒「にほんしゅ」を飲「の」んだら、すぐ酔「よ」う。「飲むー飲んだー飲んだら」
  • When I drink Sake, I get drunk easily. (If I drank Sake, I would get drunk.)
  • 車「くるま」を買「か」ったら生活「せいかつ」が楽「たの」しくなる。「買うー買ったー買ったら」
  • If we bought a car, our life would become interesting (funny, enjoyable).

Notice, that I have been mixing different English conditionals when translating the Japanese sentences. This is because sometimes it is difficult to decide what the speaker wants to express exactly, plus some of the conditional cases overlap.

For example let’s investigate the last sentence. It could be used in 0th conditional as well, depending on how the speaker values things in life:

  • 車を買うと生活が楽しくなる。「買うー買ったー買ったら」
  • If we buy a car, our life becomes interesting (funny, enjoyable).

In this case we imply it as a general truth, that cars changes our lives significantly. In this sense Japanese has the same emotional content when changing between 0th and 1st conditional.

I also have to emphasize, that these sentences lack any form of politeness. As such never use them in their “simple” form when talking to a stranger or a superior.

Finally I would like to show you the way how these sentences should be changed, when your partner is a stranger or somebody “above” you in the given situation:

  • 他の女の子と遊んだら、彼女が怒ります。「遊ぶー遊んだー遊んだら」
  • If he was hanging out with other girls, his girlfriend would be angry.
  • 日本酒を飲んだらすぐ酔います。「飲むー飲んだー飲んだら」
  • When I drink Sake, I get drunk easily. (If I drank Sake, I would get drunk.)
  • 車を買ったら生活が楽しくなります。「買うー買ったー買ったら」
  • If we bought a car, our life would become interesting (funny, enjoyable).
You might have noticed, that I only changed the end of the sentences. The form I have used here is called the "masu-form", which is created according to different conjugation rules. Later on, when I talk about advanced grammatical structures, this will be extremely important, so don’t forget to check out my previous article as well.
Now let's see "How to buy train tickets in Japan in Japanese"

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