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The particle と can mean either a fairly simple "And" or it can mean if X then Y.

1: 私は犬と猫が好きです - I like dogs and cats

2: びんを落すと壊れる - if drop the bottle, it breaks

Taken independently either of these rules is easy to remember. In fact と as "and" is probably one of the earliest things you learn in Japanese.

With these two simple example sentences it is quite easy to figure out what is going on. But, when you're reading a longer passage things might not be so clear.

Are there any rules for spotting the difference between the two とs?

For example with example 2, how do you absolutely 100% know that it means drop it=> it breaks, rather than just drop it and break it in a unrelated actions, listy sort of way?

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2 Answers 2

Here's a very simple rule that works 99% of the time:

  1. The coordinator と (meaning "AND") follows nouns:

    犬と猫

  2. The conditional と (meaning "WHEN/IF") follows a clause:

    びんを落すと    ← a clause that ends in a verb, followed by と

    In your example the clause ends in a verb, but it's also possible in a sentence with an adjective or with a noun plus だ or such. The clause can also be negative, and often is.

This ignores other uses of と, such as the quoting usage. (See Ash's answer.)

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would it not be possible to say something along the lines of 僕の趣味みはゲームをすると映画を見る? Then it is a clause, which could make it complicated with a long passage. –  josquius Jun 13 at 7:01
1  
@josquius have a look at (11) in my answer. you basically have to make the verbs into nouns to connect them with と –  Ash Jun 13 at 7:13

と after a verb/i-adjective is the conditional usage*
(1) そんなことすると逮捕されるぞ。If you do things like that you'll get arrested.
(2) おいしいとつい食べ過ぎてしまう。If it tastes good I always end up eating too much.

と directly after a noun is the listing usage*
(3) 私は犬と猫が好きです。I like dogs and cats.
(4) 日本と中国で文化が違う。Japan and China have different cultures.

だと/ですと after a noun/na-adjective would be the conditional usage*
(5) 海外だと変な意味になってしまう日本人の名前 Japanese names which have a strange meaning abroad
(6) まわりが静かだと逆に集中できない。If my surroundings are quiet, I actually can't concentrate.

*Assuming it not the quoting usage like
(7)「明日雨が降る」と言っていた。They said "It will rain tomorrow".
(8) いい映画だと思います I think it's a good film.

EDIT: If you want to list verbs, you have a number of ways including the te-form, ~たり~たりする structure, and using こと or の to basically make the verbs into nouns.

(9) 学校に行って勉強します I will go to school and study.
(10) 週末は買い物に行ったり映画を見たりします。On the weekend I do things such as go shopping and watch movies.
(11) 僕の趣味はゲームをすることと、映画を見ることです。My hobbies are playing games and watching movies.
(12) 料理するのが好きです。 I like cooking.
In 11 and 12, the こと or の after the verb basically makes it into a noun so you can connect it using と just like other nouns.

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