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After my first question was answered so beautifully, I would like to ask some more. :D

I wanted to know how to use conditionals for events in the past, like: "If I had saved my money, I would be rich now.", or: "If he hadn't eaten that many sweets, he wouldn't have become fat."

I did a google search, but somehow, all of the sites I found had different answers which contradicted each other, as each of them claimed their answer to be the only correct one.
I also found something on this site. In an answer here: Differences among -たら、なら、-んだったら、-えば, etc, there's the example:

あのとき右に曲がれば、どうなっただろう。
If I had turned right back then, I wonder what would have happened.

So it seems like "-ba" is the right conditional to use in this case, but because I have read so many different answers already, I am still unsure and would like a longer explanation about which conditional(s?) can be used to build a correct sentence of the type: "If X had happened (but it didn't), then Y."

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    もし、あの時右に曲がっていれば、どうなっていた(だ)ろう。It's not the past conditional, but the counterfactual conditional. The key is to useてい(たら・たなら・れば) in the conditional clause and the past tense in the main clause.
    – Yang Muye
    Jun 20, 2015 at 14:34
  • Sorry, I didn't realize there were two sorts of past conditionals. I've changed the title to make it more clear.
    – Dice
    Jun 20, 2015 at 14:48

2 Answers 2

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Strictly speaking, the Japanese sentence:

「あのとき[右]{みぎ}に[曲]{ま}がれば、どうなっただろう。」

does not correspond to the English sentence:

"If I had turned right back then, I wonder what would have happened."

in the sense that, while the English sentence is perfect by any standard with its verb tense choices, the Japanese sentence sounds "only colloquially acceptable".

If you gave that Japanese sentence as your translation of that English sentence in a Japanese high school or college, you would surely be corrected.

The problem is with both 「曲がれば」 and 「なった」. Informally, as I stated above, we sometimes actually form this sentence with those casual-sounding tense choices. "Officially", however, the sentence would need to be formed as:

「あのとき右に曲がっていたのなら(ば)、どうなっていた(の)だろう(or のであろう)。」 or

「あのとき右に曲がっていれば(or いたら)、どうなっていた(の)だろう(or のであろう)。」

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    Hm, I think I'm starting to understand. It's not about the kind of conditional you use, but about what else you do with the verbs. That "-tei-" form used in a regular sentence means that something is happening (or was happening) at the moment, right? So, is there a deeper meaning of why it is used in this type of conditional sentence? And it's fine to omit it, if I just speak to someone I know informally, like some syllables kann be omitted from other words?
    – Dice
    Jun 21, 2015 at 9:05
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    @l'électeur Interesting - I know it's been several months, but I would also like to know if the ていた is needed because it was a momentary action.
    – rhyaeris
    Jan 16, 2016 at 15:28
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In a short story by Inoue Yasushi (満月), one will find the following passage:

影林が実業の不振の理由に、大株主総会に於いて、社長の席から引退するように強要されたのは[昭和]三十年の秋であった。これは明らかに社の内部と外部が連絡して企んだ謀策であったが、それに対抗する手段はなかった。叩けば多少の埃はでた。

The interesting item of syntax is the last sentence, a past, hypothetical (unreal) conditional. Takubo, (Conditionals in Japanese, in Handbook of Japanese Semantics and Pragmatics Eds. Wesley Jacobsen and Yukinori Takubo) says that the hypothetical meaning is made apparent by the addtion of a ‘modal’, such as darō, but one can see that that isn’t necessarily the case, presumably because there is context. The problem of interpretation comes about when conditionals are quoted in isolation.

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  • It is hard to see the difference between あの時右に曲がれば、どうなった, and 叩けば多少の埃はでた. Perhaps there are pragmatic reasons, but if so, I would like to know, since both would be fine translations of English 'if I had turned right at that time, what would have happened?', and 'if you had beaten it, a fair amount of dust would have come out of it', respectively.
    – N. Hunt
    Sep 7, 2023 at 2:04

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