An in-Depth Look at the ば (Ba) Form in Japanese

For students of Japanese who have progressed to an intermediate level in their studies, one of the best tools in their grammatical toolbelt is the ability to form conditional sentences. Conditional sentences in English use the conjunction “if,” but Japanese has multiple grammar points for creating conditional sentences. The one we will look at in this article is the ば form.

The ば form is a conjugation of verbs and adjectives that creates the meaning “if” in conjunction with the base meaning of the word. Below, we will discuss how to conjugate both verbs and adjectives into the ば form and its different meanings and uses.

The ば (Ba) Form and Verbs

Using the ば form with verbs is very common, so let’s look at it first. If you are unfamiliar with verbs in Japanese, there are three categories: る (ru) verbs, う (u) verbs, and irregular verbs. They are also called group II, group I, and group II verbs, respectively. This is important to remember, as each category follows different rules when conjugating into the ば form.

る(Ru)/Group 2 Verb Conjugation

る(ru)-verbs, or group 2 verbs are considered the easiest verbs to conjugate. る-verbs are those that end with the hiragana る, which is preceded by a hiragana with the え (e) or い (i) vowel sound.

  • 食べる (taberu): to eat
  • 起きる (okiru): to awake
  • 寝る (neru): to go to bed
  • 考える (kangaeru): to think
  • 教える (oshieru): to teach

る-verbs can be conjugated into the ば form by replacing the る at the end of the verb with れば (reba).

る(Ru)/Group II Verb Conjugation Examples

る(Ru)/Group IIRemove the る (ru) at the End+ れば (reba)る(Ru)/Group II in Ba-Form
食べる (taberu)
to eat
食べ (tabe)+ れば (reba)食べれば (tabereba):
If I/you eat~
起きる (okiru)
to wake up
起き (oki)+ れば (reba)起きれば (okireba):
If I/you wake up~
寝る (neru)
to go to bed
寝 (ne)+ れば (reba)れば (nereba):
If I/you go to bed~
考える (kangaeru)
to think
考え (kangae)+ れば (reba)考えれば (kangaereba):
If I/you think~
教える (oshieru)
to teach
教え (oshie)+ れば (reba)教えれば (oshiereba):
If I/you teach~

*Note:  While the translation says “I/you,” other pronouns would work, depending on the sentence (he, she, they, someone, John, etc.)

Example Sentences:

1. 毎日野菜を食べれば、すぐに大きくなる。
(mainichi yasai o tabereba, sugu ni ōkiku naru)
If you eat vegetables every day, you’ll grow up soon.

2. 早く起きればバスに間に合う。
(hayaku okireba basu ni maniau)
If I wake up early, I’ll be on time for the bus.

う(U)/Group 1 Verb Conjugation

Next are the う(u)-verbs, also known as group 1 verbs. う-verbs typically end in a hiragana with the う sound that is not る; if they do end in る, it is preceded by a hiragana with the vowel sound of あ (a), お (o), or う (u).

  • 買う (kau): to buy
  • 書く (kaku): to write
  • 飲む (nomu): to drink 
  • 作る (tsukuru): to make
  • 立つ (tatsu): to stand 
  • 話す (hanasu): to talk 

う-verbs differ from る-verbs in conjugation slightly; each う-verb is conjugated by changing the last hiragana to the character in the 4th row of the hiragana chart and then adding ば at the end.

As previously mentioned, the dictionary form (3rd row of hiragana chart) of う-verbs all end in う (or く、す、む、つ、る、, etc.). Changing this to the 4th row will make all the characters end with “え” (け、せ、め、て、れ, etc.).

Take a look at the following list of う verb conjugations for some clear examples.

  • 買う → 買えば (kaeba)
  • 書く → 書けば (kakeba)
  • 飲む → 飲めば (nomeba)
  • 作る → 作れば (tsukureba)
  • 立つ → 立てば (tateba)
  • 話す → 話せば (hanaseba)

Here are a couple of these う-verbs in example sentences to give you an idea of how they work.

Example Sentences:

1. セール中だから今買えばお得だよ。
(sēru chū dakara ima kaeba otoku da yo.)
They are having a sale so if you buy it now you’ll be getting a great deal.

2. これを飲めば元気になるかも。
(kore o nomeba genki ni naru kamo.)
Maybe if you drink this, you’ll feel better.

Irregular/Group 3 Verb Conjugation

Last in the verbs are the irregular or group 3 verbs, which don’t follow any previous pattern. Each of these verbs must be memorized on their own, but thankfully there aren’t many of them in Japanese. The two most common are the following.

  • する (suru): to do
  • 来る (kuru): to come

する and 来る are easy to memorize when it comes to the ば form because they behave like る verbs for this conjugation. Simply change the final “る” to “れ” and add ば at the end.

  • する → すれば (sureba): If I/you do~
  • 来る → 来れば (kureba): If I/you come~

Example Sentences:

1. ちゃんとすればお父さんもお母さんも怒らないよ。
(chanto sureba otōsan mo okāsan mo okoranai yo.)
If you do it properly, your mom and dad won’t get mad at you.

2. 朝早く来れば田中さんに会えますよ。
(asa hayaku kureba Tanaka san ni aemasu yo.)
You can meet Tanaka san if you come early in the morning.

The ば Form and Adjectives

While often used with verbs, the ば form can also be used with adjectives. There are two types of adjectives: い(i)-adjectives and な(na)-adjectives. い-adjectives are so named because they always end in an い, and な-adjectives are combined with nouns using their unique な conjunction.

 Conjugating い-Adjectives

For い-adjectives, the ば form is made by changing the final “い” to ければ (kereba).

I-Adjective Conjugation Examples

I-AdjectiveRemove the い (i) at the End+ ければ (kereba)I-Adjective in Ba-Form
美しい (utsukushii)
beautiful
美し (utsukushi)+ ければ (kereba)美しければ(utsukushikereba):
If it’s beautiful~
楽しい (tanoshii)
fun
楽し (tanoshi)+ ければ (kereba)楽しければ (tanoshikereba):
If it’s fun~
寒い (samui)
cold (weather)
寒 (samu)+ ければ (kereba)ければ
(samukereba):
If it’s cold~
美味しい (oishii)
delicious
美味し (oishi)+ ければ (kereba)美味しければ
(oishikereba):
If it’s delicious~
難しい (muzukashii)
difficult
難し (muzukashi)+ ければ (kereba)難しければ (muzukashikereba):
If it’s difficult~

 な-Adjective Conjugation

For な-adjectives, the conjugation is a little more complicated, as it doesn’t involve conjugating the adjective directly, but instead combines it with the verb ある (aru), or “to be.” ある is conjugated by changing the final “る” to “れ” and adding ば. Then you’ll replace the “な” with the conjunction で (de) and combining it with あれば.

ある** → あれば (areba)

**Note:  ある (aru) is technically a う/group I-verb, but the way you conjugate this verb is an exception. That’s why with the ば-form it’s not あえば (aeba), which would be how a normal う-verb is conjugated. Instead, it becomes あれば (areba).

Na-Adjective Conjugation Examples

Na-AdjectiveRemove the な (na) at the End+ で あれば (areba)I-Adjective in Ba-Form
綺麗な (kirei na)
pretty/clean
綺麗 (kirei)+ で あれば (de areba)綺麗であれば
(kirei de areba):
If it’s pretty/clean~
丁寧な (teinei na)
polite
丁寧 (teinei)+ で あれば (de areba)丁寧であれば
(tanoshikereba):
If it’s polite~
変な (hen na)
strange
変 (hen)+ で あれば (de areba)であれば
(hen de areba):
If it’s strange~
便利な (benri na)
convenient
便利 (benri)+ で あれば (de areba)便利であれば
(benri de areba):
If it’s convenient~
静かな (shizuka na)
quiet
静か (shizuka)+ で あれば (de areba)静かであれば
(shizuka de areba):
If it’s quiet~

The following two example sentences use the ば form of adjectives to show just how to use them in practice. Be sure to confirm which type of adjective is being used in each.

Example Sentences:

1. 今年の冬が寒ければ、新しい上着を買いたい。
(kotoshi no fuyu ga samukuareba, atarashī uwagi o kaitai.)
If the winter this year is cold, I want to buy a new jacket.

2. 明日行くレストランのスタッフが丁寧であればまた予約しましょう。
(ashita iku resutoran no sutaffu ga teinei de areba mata yoyaku shimashō.)
If the staff at the restaurant to which we go tomorrow are polite, let’s make a reservation again.

Other Uses of the ば Form

All of the above examples of the ば form are in the polite present tense, but it is possible to use this form with negative and past tenses too. 

ば (Ba) With the Negative Form

To use the ば form in a negative context, take the casual negative form of the verb, which ends in ない (nai), and change the “い” to “ければ.”  This will give it the meaning of “If you don’t ~.”  

Ba-Form: Negative Verb Examples

Verb in Plain Negative FormRemove the い (i) at the End+ ければ (kereba)Negative Verb in Ba-Form*
食べない (tabenai)
Do not / Will not eat
食べな (tabena)+ ければ (kereba)食べなければ (tabenakereba):
If I/you don’t eat~
寝ない (nenai)
Do not / Will not go to bed
寝な (nena)+ ければ (kereba)寝なければ
(nenakereba):
If I/you don’t go to bed~
飲まない (nomanai)
Do not / Will not drink
飲まな (nomana)+ ければ (kereba)飲まなければ (nomanakereba):
If I/you don’t drink~
作らない (tsukuranai)
Do not / Will not make
作らな (tsukurana)+ ければ (kereba)作らなければ (tsukuranakereba):
If I/you don’t make~
しない (shinai)
Do not / Will not play/do
しな (shina)+ ければ (kereba)しなければ
(shinakereba):
If I/you don’t do/play~

*Note:  While the translation says “I/you,” other pronouns would work, depending on the sentence (he, she, they, someone, John, etc.)

ば-Form in the Past Tense: Reflecting On the Past

For the past tense, we don’t change a verb or adjective in the ば-form at all. Instead, we use a past tense verb or adjective after the ば-form phrase to change the whole sentence to the past tense. 

When you do this (using the ば-form followed by a verb or adjective in the past tense), the nuance of this sentence becomes similar to “I should have ~.” or “I would/wouldn’t have ~.” in English.   

Example Sentences:

1. 真実を知っていれば彼女と話しました。
(shinjitsu o shitteireba kanojo to hanashimashita.)
I would have talked with her if I had known the truth.

You can also create a past negative sentence as well:

2 遅く寝なければ遅刻しなかっただろう。
(osoku nenakereba chikoku shinakatta darō.)
If I hadn’t gone to bed so late, I probably wouldn’t have been late for school.

Special Phrases that Use the ば Form

While the ば-form is used as an “if” statement in general, there are cases where its meaning differs slightly. These common grammar points are valuable tools and thus worth remembering.

~ば~ほど (~Ba ~ Hodo): The More You Do Something~

A very useful phrase is “すればするほど (sureba suru hodo),” which means “the more X, the more Y.” This phrase is used by inserting the same verb or adjective twice, once in the ば form and once in the present tense followed by ほど (hodo).

Example Sentences:

1. 描けば描くほど上手くなる。
(kakeba kaku hodo umaku naru.)
The more you draw, the better you become.

2. このお菓子は噛めば噛むほど味が変わっていく。
(kono okashi wa kameba kamu hodo aji ga kawatte iku.)
The flavor of this candy changes the more you chew it.  

~すればいい (~ Sureba Ii): What Should I Do?/It’s Good If ~

The next phrase is “すればいい (sureba ii).” This phrase uses the adjective いい, which means good; this phrase is often used as a “should” phrase or a suggestion.

Example Sentences:

1. 自転車について学校に電話すればいい。
(jitensha ni tsuite gakkō ni denwa sureba ii.)
You should call the school about the bicycle.

In addition, you can use this phrase with the past tense of いい, which is よかった (yokatta). This changes the phrase’s meaning slightly into “should have,” which is often used as a statement of regret or desire for a different outcome.

1. そのグッズ、早く買えばよかった!
(sono guzzu, hayaku kaeba yokatta!)
I should have gone to buy that merchandise sooner!

2. 神戸牛のシチューを頼めばよかったな。
(Kо̄be gyū no shichū o tanomeba yokatta na.)
I should have ordered the Kobe beef stew.

ば Vs. たら (Tara) Vs. と (To)

In Japanese, there are many ways to express an if statement. Some of the most common ways use either the ば-form, the たら-form, or the と particle. What’s the difference between these and the ば-form? Let’s take a look. 

ば (Ba) Conditional Form

The ば-form is often used for hypothetical situations or desires that may or may not come true in the future. In other words, the ば-form is used for if statements that are far off or abstract.

Example Sentences:

1. お金持ちになれば豪邸に住めるだろう。
(okanemochi ni nareba gōtei ni sumeru darou.)
If I ever become rich, I should be able to live in a mansion.

2. ハーバード大学に入学できれば将来成功を収めることが確実だ。
(Hābādo daigaku ni nyūgaku dekireba, shо̄rai seikо̄ o osemeru koto ga kakujitsu da.)
If I get into Harvard University, my success for the future is certain. 

たら (Tara) Conditional Form

The たら (tara)-form, on the other hand, is used for “if-then” situations. If X happens, then Y. たら can also mean “when” as in “when I went to Disneyland, I saw Mike.” Let’s take a look at some examples.

Example Sentences:

1. 東京に行ったらスカイツリーに行ってみたい。
(Tokyo ni ittara sukai turī ni itte mitai)
If I go to Tokyo, I’d like to go to Skytree.

2. あのパンは美味しそうだけど食べてみたら、パサパサでまずかった。
(ano pan wa oishisō dakedo tabete mitara, pasapasa de mazukatta.)
That bread looks delicious, but when I tried it, it was dry and tasted terrible.

と (To) Conditional Form

Last, the と particle is used for if statements that will always end with the same result. If this X happens, then Y will surely happen. A common use of this form is when giving directions (example 1).

Example Sentences:

1. 橋を渡ると学校が右に見える。
(hashi o wataru to gakkō ga migi ni mieru.)
If you cross the bridge, you can see the school on your right.

2. あの家を通り過ぎると家の中にいる犬が吠える。
(ano ie o tōri sugiru to ie no naka ni iru inu ga hoeru.)
Whenever I pass that house, the dog that is inside will bark.  

———-

Knowing how to use the ば-form and conjugation methods for verbs and adjectives makes if statements and other uses of this form a breeze in conversation. There are many cases where the ば form comes in handy, so be sure to keep it in mind the next time you’re practicing Japanese or talking with a friend. If you keep doing your best, you’ll reach your goals in no time!

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