I'm not really sure there is an equivalent for hypothetical questions in Japanese, but here's hoping there is.

In English, hypothetical questions are generally prefaced by "What would you do if..." or something along those lines. It seems like 「何しよう...」 would almost work, but that sounds more like "what could you do if...". To be really specific, how would one say "What would you do if you were dying?" or (for the sake of variation) "what would you do if you went to the park?"

I'm assuming 「公園に行ったならば、何しようか?」 is not correct because it sounds very unnatural.

  • 1
    I'm in too much of hurry right now, but check on the patterns ~としたら・~とすれば・~とすると or ~ものなら. In your case, 行くとしたら or 行くものなら.
    – istrasci
    Jul 9, 2014 at 5:18

2 Answers 2

  1. 「公園に行ったならば、何しようか?」 is unnatural, and the main reason is that 「~しよう」 means "Let's ~", referring to something someone is actually going to do right now or in the near future. Instead, expressions like 「何をしますか?」 or 「何をして/どうやって過ごしますか?」 will do.

  2. Basically this type of question is asked without any if-clause:


  3. When you ask the similar question to someone who really is unlikely to go to parks (for some reason), you can use "仮に", "もし", "もしも", etc., combined with "~のであれば", "~としたら", "~なら" or "~ならば". You can omit 仮に or もし, but that will make the question a bit unclear:


  4. Using past tense here is also possible if it's the conditional of the present (≒past subjunctive in English); that will not change the meaning:

    (* もしも1週間後に死んだのであれば、何をすると思いますか?: weird)

    (I've been aware of this fact since I learned English subjunctive many years ago, but I don't know the underlying Japanese grammar here. I don't think it's related to honorific/humble expression, but it may be some kind of euphemism? Any comment is appreciated.)

  • 1
    That's because 行った is not past tense, it's perfective aspect. What will you do after having gone to the park. 死んだら何する?doesn't work because you cannot do anything after having died.
    – dainichi
    Jul 10, 2014 at 5:31
  • @dainichi Thank you, your comment lead me to this page, which enlightened me.
    – naruto
    Jul 10, 2014 at 16:41

English uses specific verb forms (past subjunctive / would) to express unlikely/counterfactual conditionals. Japanese doesn't have this feature, so if you want to stress the unlikeliness, you need to express it in other ways, for example with adverbials like もし or 仮に

仮に公園に行ったならば、何する? What would you do if you went to the park?
仮に公園に行ったならば、何した? What would you have done if you had gone to the park?

  • I was thinking of giving a second answer but then when rereading this answer, I felt like this answer might be saying in part the opposite of what I might imagine saying. Aren't 〜ば and 〜たら verb conjugations just like the subjunctive were and might? I was going to say Japanese often signals that it's a conditional with verb form whereas in English the requirement to include "if" is stricter because we our hypothetical forms are not by themselves clear enough to signal... Where am I going wrong?
    – virmaior
    Jul 9, 2014 at 5:02
  • @virmaior The point is that the verbs in the subordinated clauses, i.e. 行った, are in the past tense. Counterfactual constructions employ the past tense in combination with conditional elements. Jul 9, 2014 at 9:13
  • 1
    @virmaior, I'm not talking about how to express conditionals, I'm talking about how to express counterfactual conditionals. Japanese cannot do that with verb forms, or to be more precise, the conditionality might be expressed by a verb form, but the counterfactuality is not expressed by a verb form.
    – dainichi
    Jul 10, 2014 at 0:38
  • @ThomasGross, I would say 行った does not express counterfactuality, it expresses aspect. 行ったら何する? has no counterfactual conditional, it can even express future tense, the point is that 行った is perfective aspect in relation to the する.
    – dainichi
    Jul 10, 2014 at 1:38
  • 1
    @dainichi I pointed out that counterfactual expressions require the past tense and some form of conditional expression. 行ったら does NOT contain 行った, rather -tara is ONE inflectional suffix. And 行ったら何する is NOT a counterfactual sentence. Jul 10, 2014 at 6:18

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .