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I'm finding the explanation of nara in Genki II very confusing..

I've understood nara as a conditional (in league with tara, and ba), sort of a variant of "if this were to be"..

Genki describes it as such:

"(noun) nara (predicate) = (predicate) applies only to (noun)"

"nara introduces a sentence that says something "positive" about the item that is contrasted."

I don't quite understand what they mean, but they gave two examples. First one, they label as "contrast" and the second they label as "limitation" (also confusing to me..?)

1) Q: ブラジルに行ったことがありますか? A: チリなら行ったことがありますが、ブラジルは行ったことがありません。

2) Q: 日本語がわかりますか? A: ひらがなならわかります。

Thinking back to the particle "wa", I learned that it sort of implies "on the topic of NOUN, something something (predicate)". After reading some other explanations that equate nara closer to "if", I began to understand nara to function sort of like a conditional "wa"...

"Have you ever been to Brazil?" "If we're talking about Chile, then I've been there, but I haven't been to Brazil."

and..

"Do you understand Japanese?" "If we're talking about hiragana, then I understand."

So if we used "wa" then it would sound like "On the topic of Chile, I've been there" or "As for Hiragana, I understand." but using nara makes it sound conditional like "IF we are talking of Chile, then I've been" or "If we're talking about Hiragana specifically, then yes, I understand"

I'm wondering if I've got this correct, or if I'm missing the point..

I also wondered if maybe there's an implication of "only" that comes with nara..

Example:

"Have you ever been to Brazil?" "If we're ONLY talking about Chile, then I've been there, but I haven't been to Brazil (or any other place)."

and..

"Do you understand Japanese?" "If we're ONLY talking about hiragana, then I understand (but I don't understand any other form of Japanese)."

Which is correct? Can someone explain the usage that Genki II is referring to in a simple layman way.

Thank you!

  • 1
    In fact, etymologically it has been argued that the conditional ば in なら(ば) comes from the particle は. – snailboat Feb 21 '18 at 4:27
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You are on the right track. Here's my two cents.

I would avoid relating this to the wa particle. There are definitely similar ways to use them, but their meanings are in fact different.

I like to think of なら as more of the if/then form. Using your example:

A: チリなら行ったことがありますが、ブラジルは行ったことがありません。
A: If it's Chile (we're talking about), I've been there, but I have not been to Brazil.

Why does the speaker bring up Chile? While it would make sense from an abstract point of view looking at a map, it's important to note that the speaker for whatever reason thinks it is relevant. This kind of inclusion is common with the use of なら.


Q: 日本語がわかりますか?
A: ひらがなならわかります。

Is yet another case where if/then logic works well.

Q: Do you understand Japanese?
A: If it's hiragana, then yes.

There is a condition here, and it is largely implied. Another translation that would be more linear would be If it is written in hiragana, then yes. The answer in this case puts a condition on the subject (Japanese in this case). By connecting the subject, Japanese, to a condition, hiragana, you also imply that you are talking about written language.

I also wondered if maybe there's an implication of "only" that comes with nara..

This could work in these cases, but I would suggest you think of this as a conditional if/then type grammar. Often there are additional implications that come from the use of なら.


Here's another example:

Q:たまごがすきですか?
A:なまならすきじゃない。

Q:Do you like eggs?
A:If the eggs are raw, (then) I don't like them.

Here you are making an implication about the cooking of your eggs. The question didn't ask about cooking the eggs, just if the answerer liked eggs. The answer also implies that he likes cooked eggs.

Translating it as If it's only raw eggs we're talking about, then I don't like them does get the same meaning across, but we're talking about more than raw eggs, we're talking about eggs in general. It's better to take the short answer like Well if the eggs are raw, then no (I don't like them).

This is a long answer, and I'm not sure if I got all of your questions, so please comment if I haven't answered all your questions.

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