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Mandarin Conditional Sentences

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Just as in English, Mandarin conditional sentences deal with hypothetical situations and their outcomes.

Mandarin conditional sentences consist of two clauses: the condition, and the consequence.

Mandarin Chinese has several expressions related to conditionality, such as "if...then" or "unless".

Many of these expressions are translated in English as "if", but the range of Mandarin expressions is much larger, and cover more specific situations.

There are several Mandarin Chinese words that translate as "if", but only two of these are in common use. The others are used in literary or formal situations.

The most common way to say "if" in Mandarin Chinese is either with 如果 (rú guó), and 要是 (yào shì). These words are equally common and can be used interchangeably.

The other words that can be translated as "if" are as follows. These are not usually used in daily life, and will mostly be found in specialized situations and texts:

  • 若是 - ruò shì
  • 倘使 - tǎng shǐ
  • 倘若 - tǎng ruò
  • 假若 - jiǎ ruò
  • 假如 - jiǎ rú
  • 假使 - jiǎ shǐ
  • 設若 / 设若 - shè ruò

Notice that many of these words use the same characters, such as 倘 (tǎng), 若 (ruò) and 假 (jiǎ).

If ... Then

Both 如果 (rú guó), and 要是 (yào shi) are usually paired with 就 (jiù), which precedes the complementary phrase of the sentence, as in the following example:

如果晚上下雨我就不去看電影。
如果晚上下雨我就不去看电影。
Rúguǒ wǎnshang xiàyǔ wǒ jiù bú qù kàn diànyǐng.
If it rains this evening, I won’t go to the movies.

Note that the 就 (jiù- then) may not be translated to English, but is usually necessary in Mandarin Chinese.

Here is another example:

要是我喝咖啡我會睡不著。
要是我喝咖啡我会睡不着。
Yàoshì wǒ hē kāfēi wǒ huì shuì bù zháo.
If I drink coffee I won't be able to fall asleep.

Only If...

In order to emphasize the conditional "if", we can use the Mandarin Chinese word 除非 (chú fēi), which translates as "only if..."; "only when..."; or "only in the case that...".

除非 (chú fēi) is used to stress the outcome of an action or inaction, as in the following examples:

除非雨停了,我才會出去。
除非雨停了,我才会出去。
Chúfēi yǔ tíng le, wǒ cái huì chūqù.
I won't go out unless it stops raining. (literally: Only if the rain stops, I will be able to go out.)
除非有錢,要不然我是不會買房子的。
除非有钱,要不然我是不会买房子的。
Chúfēi yǒu qián, yào bu rán wǒ shì bú huì mǎi fángzi de.
Only if I were rich would I be able to buy the house.

Even If...

A related Mandarin Chinese expression is used to emphasize that something is precisely or exactly what is stated. 就是 (jiù shì) translates as "precisely"; "exactly"; "even"; "if"; "just like"; or "in the same way as". When used in conjunction with 也 (yě), it can mean "even if", as in the following example:

你就是再聰明,不努力學習,也不會得到好成勣的。
你就是再聪明,不努力学习,也不会得到好成绩的。
Nǐ jiùshì zài cōngmíng, bù nǔlì xuéxí, yěbù huì dédào hǎo chéngjī de. Even if you are inteligent, if you don't study hard, you will not get good marks.

Just as in the examples with 就 (jiù - then) when combined with 如果 (rú guó), and 要是 (yào shì), 也 (yě - also) when combined with 就是 (jiù shì) is not necessarily translated into English. Nonetheless, it is an important part of Mandarin grammar, and your sentences may sound awkward without these helper words.

Conditional sentences fall into two major categories: factual and hypothetical. Factual conditional sentences could be true, but are unverified. Hypothetical conditional sentences are based on conditional which are not true, such as "If I were a king...".

The Mandarin conditional sentences covered in this article can be used for either actual or hypothetical conditional sentences.

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