I would like to know a bit more about the "ねば" grammatical construction. Every now and then, I hear people say sentences like




It's quite clear that ねば means the same as なければ, but

  • Is it a shorten form of なければ, or a different construction?
  • Is it an old form, or something that has been around for 20 years or so?
  • Is its usage limited to some regions? ages? social classes?
  • How (in)formal is it?
  • Is it like なきゃ and なくちゃ? (as far as usage is concerned, not nuances)
  • 5
    This isn't a complete answer, so I'm only commenting, but する in this form is せねば, not しねば. (I suppose this also suggests that it's not just a shortened form of なければ, as that uses し and not せ...)
    – Hyperworm
    Sep 8, 2011 at 3:37
  • @hyperworm: I saw on google some "しねば" that were certainly not 死ぬ (precisely "なんとかしねば"), and thus I inferred that しねば was a possible form for する. It would be possible, since する has せろ/しよ too.
    – Axioplase
    Sep 8, 2011 at 3:42
  • 1
    せねば is the standard form, but I think that しねば is used in some dialects. Sep 8, 2011 at 13:29
  • 1
    「なんとかせねばいい」 sounds incorrect and makes little sense..
    – chocolate
    Jan 10, 2018 at 12:20

1 Answer 1


ねば can be divided into two parts:

  • ね, the 已然形 (realis) form of the Classical Japanese auxiliary verb ず
  • ば, basically the same as modern ば

So to answer your questions in detail (great format, by the way!):

  • It is a different construction -- actually なければ is a reinvention of the same concept (已然形 + ば) using modern parts!
  • It is a very old form, here it is in the Manyoshu: "... 君が目見ねば苦しかりけり" ("... Not seeing you (lit. your eyes), I suffer." -- note the use of the 已然形 was a bit different back then. This changed a few hundred years ago (IIRC) to something more like our usage)
  • I don't think its usage is especially limited except insofar as it is a bit of an archaism. (Note that the first two examples include ならぬ and 倒る, also archaisms.) I think most people would recognize it, but few would use it except for intentional effect (intentionally overformal speech as joke, etc.). However, this kind of pseudo-archaic talk is quite popular among certain internet circles, so it might be more common and "normal" there, and might have seeped out into real life from that point. I hope that someone else will be able to provide better info on this point.
  • As above, it is a bit of an archaism and so while not informal as such, it might be considered inappropriate or unusual in a case where standard Japanese was expected.
  • なきゃ and なくちゃ are normal standard Japanese, just informal (as you know of course), so it is not like them.
  • 1
    Thanks! Great informative reply! I just want to say that the examples are mine. I chose "ならぬ" for fun, but I didn't know that 倒る was archaic! I don't know any other way to say "faint/collapse/fall down" :)
    – Axioplase
    Sep 8, 2011 at 8:09
  • @Axioplase: The modern verb is 倒れる — note the okurigana!
    – Zhen Lin
    Sep 8, 2011 at 11:38
  • 1
    Yeah, たおる is archaic (and maybe survives in some dialects? not sure), たおれる is the modern standard form.
    – Matt
    Sep 8, 2011 at 12:30
  • In Old Japanese (maybe also Classical?), the 已然形【いぜんけい】 or "realis form" using the -e stem (basically, "the action of the verb has happened") as ~えば meant "because ~". The modern sense of "if" that is often associated with the ~ば construction was instead expressed using the 未然形【みぜんけい】 or "irrealis form" using the -a stem (basically, "the action of the verb hasn't happened yet") as ~あば to mean "if ~". Dec 12, 2022 at 17:48
  • Example: 行【ゆ】けば → "because you go" —— 行【ゆ】かば → "if you go". Various poems in the Man'yōshū make much better sense if you factor in this difference. 😄 Dec 12, 2022 at 17:51

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