Language | WELL SAID

If it’s an explanation of how to use ‘nara’ you’re looking for, here it is

by Akemi Tanahashi and Hitomi Tashiro

Contributing Writers

Konbini-ni iku-nara, o-kashi-o katte-kite. (If you’re going to the convenience store, can you buy me some candy?)

Situation 1: Junior high school student Takako tells her older brother, Mitsuo, that she’s going out.

たか子:  ちょっとコンビニに行ってくるね。

光男:  あ、コンビニに行くなら、お菓子を買ってきて。

Takako: Chotto konbini-ni itte-kuru-ne.

Mitsuo: A, konbini-ni iku-nara, o-kashi-o katte-kite.

Takako: I’m going to the convenience store.

Mitsuo: Oh, if you’re going there, can you buy me some candy?

Today we will introduce the proper use of Xなら、Y, which means “if X, Y” or “if it is the case that X, Y” and is used when the speaker offers a request, order, opinion, intention, judgment or suggestion based on what the other party says. X is the plain form of a noun, verb or adjective, but drops the だ when it is a noun or na-adjective in the present affirmative form, as in コンビニなら (if it’s the convenience store) and げんきなら (if he/she is fine). Example: 「このへんに、おいしいそば屋(や)がないかな?」 「そば屋なら、まつやがいいよ。」 (“Are there any good noodle restaurants around here?” “If it’s a noodle restaurant you’re after, Matsuya’s a good one.”). Xなら、Y can be replaced by Xのなら、Y, but this form is used only when the speaker sees/hears the situation or accepts the other party’s remark; Xなら is still used when X is a na-adjective or noun in the affirmative non-past. Example: 「エクセルの使い方(つかいかた)がよくわからないんです。」 「わからないのなら、吉田(よしだ)さんに聞(き)いてみて。」 (“I don’t really understand how to use Excel.” “If you don’t understand it, why don’t you ask Ms. Yoshida?”). In the Xなら、Y pattern, the Y can be a matter that occurs before X happens. Example: コンビニに行くなら、かさを持(も)っていったほうがいいよ。雨(あめ)が降(ふ)りそうだから (If you’re going to the convenience store, you’d better take your umbrella, because it looks like rain).

Situation 2: Mr. Shiba and his wife are talking about buying a robotic vacuum cleaner.

夫: ねえ、うちもロボット掃除機を買おうよ。

妻: 値段が高くないなら、考えるけどね。

Otto: Nē, uchi-mo robotto-sōjiki-o kaō-yo.

Tsuma: Nedan-ga takakunai nara, kangaeru-kedo-ne.

Husband: Hey, let’s buy a robotic vacuum cleaner.

Wife: If it’s not expensive, I’ll think about it.

Xなら、Y is also used to express supposition. Example: そういう 場合(ばあい)、私(わたし)なら、謝(あやま)らないな (In that kind of case, if it were me, I wouldn’t apologize). When Y is a matter of course or something that happens naturally over time, XならY cannot be used. For example, this sentence is wrong: 5月(ごがつ)になるなら、暖(あたた)かくなる (Come May, it’ll be warm). The correct sentence would be 5月になると/なれば、暖かくなる.

Bonus Dialogue: Young staff members who went out drinking are about to head home.

セレ:  そろそろ帰(かえ)らなくちゃ。

田町:  あ、セレさんが帰るのなら、私(わたし)も帰る。

三田:   ぼくも。あれ、スマホはどこかな。

田町:  スマホなら、さっき駅(えき)で使(つか)っていたじゃ ない。

三田:  うん、それは覚(おぼ)えているけど、どこにしまったかな。

田町:  そんなこと、知(し)らないよ。決(き)まったところにしまわないと、いつも探(さが)し物(もの)をすることになっちゃうよ。

三田:  うん。わかっている。でも、なかなか行動(こうどう)に移(うつ)せないんだ。

セレ:  実際(じっさい)に行動しないのなら、あまり意味(いみ)がないよ。

三田:  そうだね。…あ、スマホを探(さが)していたら、スマホ と一緒(いっしょ)に千円札(せんえんさつ)が出(で)てきた。ラッキー!

セレ:  これだから、なかなか行動に移せないんだな。

Sere: I’d better be leaving soon.

Tamachi: Oh, if you’re heading off, I’m going too.

Mita: Me too. Huh? Where’s my (smart)phone?

Tamachi: Your phone? You used it at the station a while ago, right?

Mita: Yeah, I remember, but I wonder where I put it after that.

Tamachi: I don’t know. If you don’t keep everything in its place, you’ll always be looking for things.

Mita: Yeah, I know. But I just can’t seem to put that into action.

Sere: If you don’t actually do it, it makes no sense.

Mita: You’re right! … Oh, I’ve found a ¥1,000 note along with my phone. Lucky!

Sere: That’s why you can’t change your ways.