In https://japanesetest4you.com/japanese-language-proficiency-test-jlpt-n4-grammar-exercise-7/ I encountered the following sentence:



If I were to translate this into English, I'm guessing it would be

Father could make anything.

If I need a cupboard, father would have made it for me.

Notice I internally translated as need instead of needed because it was 〜が必要なら and not 〜が必要だったなら.

Similarly, I internally translated as would have made because of the past form in the phrase 作ってくれた.

Looking at my internal translation, however, I end up getting confused because of the divergence of tenses. Surely, the sentence would have been better translated as:

  • If I need a cupboard, father would make it for me.


  • If I needed a cupboard, father would have made one for me.

In other words, perhaps the sentence could have been:


In essence, I'm perhaps not understanding how tenses are evaluated. So what did the sentence actually mean? How am I supposed to interpret it correctly?

  • 1
    I don't feel confident enough to post and answer because the sentence also sounds weird to me, but I want to point out that 戸棚が必要なら is neither past nor present tense, because there is no verb. だったなら doesn't sound right to me. Maybe 必要だったら, is ok, but then, aren't ~たら (and ~れば) similar to なら as conditionals?
    – jarmanso7
    Commented Aug 1, 2023 at 22:11
  • So, I can't definitely say for sure, but if I had to choose I'd say the meaning is the second one: "If I needed a cupboard, father would have made one for me." Same as if the sentence were 戸棚が必要だったら or 戸棚が必要であれば
    – jarmanso7
    Commented Aug 1, 2023 at 22:17
  • 1
    @jarmanso7 Although it seems that there are many uses of "だったなら" in internet... Also japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/27803, japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/82869
    – Arfrever
    Commented Aug 1, 2023 at 22:40

1 Answer 1


Your sentence simply means:

When(ever) a cupboard was necessary, Father made it (for me/us).

However, if the context so far clearly indicates the cupboard never existed, the following "counterfactual" or "subjunctive" interpretation is also possible (のに can be used for clarity).

If a cupboard is/was necessary, Father would have made it! (counterfactual)

Related: How to express the subjunctive mood in Japanese

I think なら is a tense-less expression; it's interchangeable with 必要であるなら or 必要だったなら/必要であったなら depending on the subsequent context.

  • 今すぐ必要なら、持って行ってください。
    = 今すぐ必要であるなら、持っていってください。
    If you need it right now, take it.
  • 明日必要なら、言ってください。
    = 明日必要であるなら、言ってください。
    If you will need it tomorrow, tell me so.
  • その時必要なら、なぜそう言わなかったの?
    = その時必要だったなら、なぜそう言わなかったの?
    If you needed it at that time, why didn't you say so?

You can use なら with a noun, in which case なら is clearly tense-less:

  • iPhoneならできるようになります。
    It will be possible with an iPhone.
  • iPhoneならできます。
    It's possible with an iPhone.
  • iPhoneならできた。
    I was able to do it with an iPhone. / I managed to do it with an iPhone. (factual)
    I could have done it with an iPhone. (counterfactual)

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