Japanese Short: If and When with ~たら

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In today’s Japanese Short we’ll take a look at one of the many ways to say “If” in Japanese, by using the verb + ~たら formation. It’s simple and therefore used a lot. Change the verb into a past form ending in た and add ら . This turns the verb into a conditional state (if…), make sure to add what happens when the condition is met afterwards.

Examples:

店に新聞があったら、買います。If there’s a newspaper at the store I will buy one.

毎日勉強したら、上手になります。 If I study every day I will become better

This can work on the negative past tense too (~なかったら)

かぎをあけなかったら、誰も割り込めません。 If I don’t unlock the door, nobody can interrupt me.

Sometimes on Twitter I have trouble translating たら sentences because I’m thinking too literal about “if” while another and maybe more natural interpretation would be to say “when (…)”

帰ったらFFXIV。(When I get home, I’ll play FFXIV) [someone tweeted this earlier today]

Here, translating it as “If I get home, I’ll play FFXIV” sounds odd because it implies you might not make it home, and translating it as “When (…)” makes more sense. The sentence is short and incomplete, but that’s just the way it is with Japanese teens on social media, it gets the meaning across but we’re free to interpret and translate that as we see fit. The topic of direct or free Japanese-English translation might be worth another blogpost 😉

I plan on doing more Japanese and Programming Shorts throughout 2016 as well as other features, focusing on interesting and sometimes nuanced features of both programming and spoken languages such as C++, Japanese and C#.  For now, I wish you all a happy New Year and a great 2016!

Nick

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