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I understand もし寝過ごせば、起こしてください is wrong. I believe instead it should be 寝過ごしたら、起こしてください。

In "A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar" it says the second part of the sentence "...can be a command, a request or a suggestion... in this case, however, [the first part] can not be an action".

As the second part of the above sentence is a request then I take it 寝過ごす「ねすごす」is an action? If I'm right can anyone give more examples of action verbs as I would not have thought of oversleeping as an action like coming and going. Is their any connection between transitivity and intransitivity of verbs and whether they are classed as an action?


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In "the second part of the sentence", what is THE sentence? You mean the example sentence you gave? –  fefe Jan 16 '12 at 11:11
And coming and going: "彼が来たら、起こしてください。" –  fefe Jan 16 '12 at 11:14
Ah I see, so '彼が来たら起こしてください' is acceptable while '彼が来れば起こしてください' is not. Likewise 'もし寝過ごしたら起こしてください' is fine but 'もし寝過ごせば起こしてください' is not. Right, I haven't noticed. Hmm, how curious... –  Choko Jan 16 '12 at 12:25

2 Answers 2

I think what the dictionary meant by "not an action" means that the action is not realised yet. For example anything in ~ば means "in the case that ~" which is hypothetical.

S1 ば S2 makes a condition that S2 will hold true under S1.

This makes for a generic conditional statement that cannot bear a unverifiable volition. How I derived this conclusion is because sentences such as 安ければ買います。((I) will buy if it's cheap) is possible. It is also possible if the person is someone you can empathise with(i.e. share the viewpoint accurately enough). But once it becomes a request it cannot become a true condition of "If A is true, B is true".

And for ~た(な)ら(ば), observe that it is actually the "past tense" for ~ば which conveys a subjunctive past. It presupposes that the action(S1) is realised, then S2. This makes for a statement that once S1 completes, do S2.

This can be used for making requests. "If A has happened, please do B".

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Thanks @Flaw for taking the time to answer. I still don't quite get it so I won't mark it as the correct answer but I do appreciate your help. –  edwinbradford Jan 17 '12 at 8:39
@edwinbradford. It's alright, in fact it's better to wait until you find an answer that suits you. Actually I'm not satisfied with my answer either, there's this concept that I'm failing to convey that I can't properly turn it into words. –  Flaw Jan 17 '12 at 12:21

I would say that anything that happens (is realized) at some point is an "action" in this context. The action 寝過ごす is realized when the train you're on reaches your station, but you're sleeping. Some other verbs like this would be 起きる, 寝る, 食べる etc. So you cannot say

  • 彼が起きれば、私に電話をするように伝えて下さい <- WRONG!!

"Non actions" in this context would be e.g. adjectives, verbs that specify some state, like いる or ~て/でいる forms of other verbs, like 起きている, 寝ている. So you can say

  • 荷物が重ければ、私に電話をして下さい Please call me if the baggage is heavy
  • 彼が家にいれば、私に電話をするように伝えて下さい If he is at home, please ask him to call me
  • 彼が起きていれば、私に電話をするように伝えて下さい If he is awake, please ask him to call me

To try to answer your second question, I don't think transitivity has much to do with it. As I've already argued with the 起きる vs 起きている example, there are cases where it's more how the verb is used than the type of the verb itself.

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