How to Use Japanese Conditional Form なら (Nara)

Not to be confused with a deer, なら (nara) is generally translated as ‘if’, but it might be better to think about the situations in which this Japanese grammar point is used rather than to look for a direct equivalent.

If it’s なら you want to know more about, then this article has you covered. The answer is a bit lengthy, but let’s take a look at the Japanese conditional forms, or “if” statements.

Contents

Brief Overview of なら

One common variation of nara is んだったら, which is used after verbs and means the same thing. Don’t get confused if you encounter it!

Before we delve in, the biggest thing all the uses of なら we will cover have in common is that they emphasize. なら tends to point the attention of the sentence toward the direction of what precedes it. Because of this embedded emphasis, you will find similarities in all the uses listed here. The point is more to show different contexts rather than mutually exclusive categories. 

How なら is formed

Noun+なら
Plain verb form+なら
Adjective+なら

Forming nara phrases is pretty straightforward. You just tack it onto a noun, verb or adjective. 

  • コーヒーなら (N+なら)
  • こーひーを飲むなら (V+なら)
  • コーヒーが熱いなら (Adj.+なら)

Contexts in which なら is used

1. Basic ‘If’ use of なら

The Japanese conditional fom “nara” is used to talk about an action before it’s completed. 

日本に行くなら、日本文化について勉強した方がいい。
にほんにいくなら、にほんぶんかについてべんきょうしたほうがいい。
If you’re thinking about going to Japan, it’s a good idea to read up about Japanese culture. 

One very important nuance of なら in this ‘if’ usage is that it’s not hard if. It is somewhere on the continuum between ‘if’ and ‘since’. In the example above, we can imagine that the person has probably decided to visit Japan, or is at least very close to it, so it is not a purely theoretical ‘if’ like perhaps もし or たら. It is very close in meaning to ‘since’. 

Let’s look at some other examples of this use of なら. 

A: このスマホもういらないかな
A: Kono sumaho mou iranai ka na.
A: I don’t think I need this phone anymore.

B:えっ?高くて、いろいろ出来るのに?
B: Ee? Takakute, iro iro dekiru no ni?
B: What? Even though it’s expensive and loaded with features?

A:でも、使わないから売った方がいい .
A: Demo, tsukawanai kara utta hou ga ii yo.
A: But I’m not using it, so it’s better to sell it.

B: 売るなら、俺買うよ
B: Uru nara, boku kau yo.
B: Well, if you’re going to sell it, I’ll buy it

Let’s look at the third example.

A: 明日仕事行きたくないな
A: Ashita shigoto ikitakunai na.
A: I don’t really want to go to work tomorrow.

B: じゃあ、休む?  
B: Jaa, yasumu?
B: Are you going to take the day off then?

A: いや、行かなきゃ
A: Iya, ikanakya.
A: No, I have to go in.

A: 行くなら、早く寝よう.
B: Iku nara, hayaku neyou.
B: Well, in that case, better get to bed early.

2. なら in sentences giving or seeking advice or recommendations

Because なら is often used in the sense of ‘if you’re thinking about X, then, Y’, it is often used in sentences seeking or giving advice, recommendations or requests. You can see that the last sentence of the dialogue above is really a sentence giving advice. なら is used to emphasize the action or topic on which some advice or recommendation is being offered.

If say you’re in a new Tokyo neighborhood and don’t know where to get a good cup of coffee, you might ask a colleague

コーヒーならどこのカフェがおすすめですか。
Koohii nara doko no kafe ga osusume desu ka.
Where’s a good place for coffee around here?

As if he’d been waiting for your question, your colleague immediately and confidently declares:

コーヒーならCAカフェがいいですよ。
Koohi nara CA kafe ga ii desu yo.
CA Cafe is definitely the place to be. 

We can infer from this answer that the person has probably been to this cafe many times or has heard a lot about it, and therefore trusts and knows that this is definitely the best cafe in the area. 

なら is often used this way in commercials to recommend products or services. One such is マンガ読むなら、ブックライブ. The next context in which なら is used is closely related to this one. 

3. To show trust or to encourage

Let’s say you have a Japanese job interview coming up, and you are a nervous wreck, seriously doubting your ability to get it done. Your dear friend might say to you 大丈夫、ケリーなら出来るよ.

This might be close in meaning to something like: Come on, it’s you (Kerry) we’re talking about here. You can do it. OR Don’t worry, (since it’s you, Kerry) you’ll be fine. This is often used with nouns. Let’s take a look at more examples.

日本のスーパーならお寿司は絶対ある。
Nihon no suupaa nara osushi ha zettai aru.
You can definitely find sushi in a Japanese supermarket. 

あの居酒屋ならビールはいつも冷え冷えだよ。
Ano izakaya nara biiru wa itsumo hiehie da yo.
That bar always serves ice-cold beer.

あの作家の小説なら面白いよ。
Ano sakka no shousetsu nara omoshiroi yo.
Any book by that author is good. 

Note that these statements are categorical. They show trust, perhaps based on prior knowledge. Note also the built-in emphasis here, if you mean that author, if you mean that bar, then…

4. なら (Nara) is Used to Simply Emphasize a Topic

Yes, なら has built-in emphasis, but there is one use that is just purely emphasizing the topic. 

朝ごはんは食べませんでした。でもコーヒーなら飲みました。
Asagohan wa tabemasen deshita. Demo koohi nara yomimashita.
I haven’t had breakfast unless coffee counts.

Another way to interpret the sentence above is, “I haven’t had breakfast, but I’ve had coffee.” The primary function of なら here is that it emphasizes coffee. Without なら, the phrase still makes sense, but with it, not only is coffee given the spotlight, but we are also slightly contrasting ‘coffee’ with ‘breakfast’. なら can also be used more explicitly to show contrast. 

5. なら (Nara) is Used to Show Contrast

This grammar point can be used when talking about opposites, one of which is usually not acceptable under the circumstances. Nara precedes the acceptable option. 

ビールは飲めないけど、オールフリーなら大丈夫。
Biiru wa nomenai kedo, ooru furii nara daijoubu.
I don’t drink beer, but non-alcoholic beer is good. 

肉料理は苦手です。でも野菜なら食べられます。
Nikuryouri wa nigate desu. Demo yasai nara taberaremasu.
I don’t eat meat, but vegetable dishes are okay. 

犬なら大丈夫ですが、猫アレルギーなんです。
Inu nara daijoubu desu ga, neko arerugi nan desu.
I’m fine with dogs, but I’m allergic to cats. 

You’re probably starting to pick up on one very big nuance of this Japanese grammar point by now: it sometimes implies that there are conditions for something. In fact, it is very commonly used in that respect. 

6. なら (Nara)To express or emphasize some conditions

It is very common to walk into stores in the middle of that practice called the タイムセール, time sale. And you will hear the staff bellowing all the discounts you can get, on one condition, you have to buy now. 

今なら、70パーセントオフです!
Ima nara, nanajuppasento ofu desu.
Buy now, and get 70 percent off!

In more quiet surroundings, you might be trying to pin down a time to meet with your colleague and suggest meeting tomorrow morning. Your colleague comes back with:

明日は忙しいです。でも朝なら、時間があります。
Ashita wa isogashii desu. Demo asa nara, jikan ga arimasu.
I’m busy all day tomorrow, but I’ll have some time in the morning.

In a more casual situation, you and your friend might be debating whether to attend a party. 

After much wrist-twisting, between the two of you, your friend says:

ケリーが行くなら、私も行く.
Kerii ga iku nara, watashi mo iku.
If Kerry goes, I’ll go too.

And your friend can say:

じゃ、それなら、私も行く。
Jaa, sore nara watashi mo iku.
In that case, I’ll go then. 

それなら (sore nara) is often used as a shortcut instead of repeating the condition to which the speaker is referring. Sometimes the それ is removed and only なら is used.

Conclusion

If you’ve made it this far, you most likely understand that while ならroughly means ‘if’, it is used in a number of contexts where it provides emphasis. This emphasis is built-in and can function to help when giving advice or recommendations, to show trust, when talking about opposites, and to express conditions. 

FAQs:

What level of the JLPT can this grammar point be found on?

This is an N3 grammar point. It is very widely used and you are likely to encounter it in your interactions with Japanese even before you start studying for the test. By the way, here’s a list of 20 must-know JLPT N3 grammar points

Are there any similar grammar points?

Yes,  たら is also often translated as ‘if’. One important distinction is that たら is used to refer to completed actions or theoretically completed actions. In that sense, なら refers to actions before they take place. 

Where can I find examples of this grammar point?

Everywhere. It is very widely used. So you might come upon it online, on Japanese TV, in your Japanese textbook, or anywhere. 

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