In l'électeur's answer here, he claims (with such confidence that he bolds the belief) that the correct way to say the English sentence

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



It seems like the reason for his statement is that instead of the plain ~ば, it should instead be ~ていれば (and that なった should be なっていた).

Furthermore, according to 新完全マスター, for 反実仮想 either ~ば or ~ていれば is acceptable. Yet, they only give examples of the latter, indicating that the latter form is preferred.


Note that in this case, the second clause is plain past tense.

My questions are then:

  1. Why is it preferred to use ~ていれば for counterfactual conditionals instead of the plain ~ば?
  2. Should we use the ~ている for both the if clause and the then clause or does the then clause not matter?
  3. Is there a difference in meaning between the two grammatical forms or is it just a clarity of writing thing?

Note: I realize that this isn't limited to ~ば and seems to apply to ~たら and ~なら as well, but for the sake of an easier title I chose to talk specifically about ~ば vs ~ていれば.


1 Answer 1


A simplified answer is that ていれば is most commonly used for past perfect counterfactual.

The following is the most standard translation pattern (terminology as per Wikipedia).

  • (Irrealis) If you paid enough attention (now), you would notice (now). (今)よく注意すれば気づくのに
  • (Past perfect) If you had paid enough attention (then), you would have noticed (then). (あのとき)よく注意していれば気づいていたのに
  • (Past perfect - irrealis) If I had done shopping yesterday, I wouldn't have to go out today. 昨日買い物していれば今日出かけなくてもよかったのに.

So roughly, irrealis corresponds to れば and past perfect to ていれば.

That said, perhaps due to the general sloppiness of Japanese in tense expression, I think both can be used to some extent. E.g., the first sentence of the question can be あの時右に曲がればどうなっただろう.

Also some verbs always require ている in some contexts and some cannot be followed by ている. E.g. if I had money and if I had had money both become 金を持っていれば/金があれば (never 金を持てば/あっていれば).

  • I think I get what you're trying to say, but I'm not sure the examples are the best. Looking at the first example, I feel like I would never say that sentence in English. Paying attention is something that happened in the past and I would always say "If you had paid enough attention, you would notice." However, I think that would be a past perfect - irrealis then. I think the same thing applies to the Japanese sentence where the combination of 今 and のに make it awkward.
    – Ringil
    Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 16:46
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    @Ringil It is more for explanation purpose. How about if I wore this, I would look like a Chinese これを着れば中国人に見えるだろう(に). One thing is, for a natural irrealis, the if-clause mostly contains a description of state (If it were not raining), which leads to ていれば in Japanese. In that sense it is harder to come up with an example which does not use ている for state description, but this is different from ていれば for p. p. counterfactual, I suppose. Second, のに is a kind of 'translation manner' when we learn counterfactuals in English, we are taught to use it to indicate that it is a counterfactual.
    – sundowner
    Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 21:41
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    In reality, だろう would sound more natural.(気づいていただろう) In general, subjunctive is only implicitly expressed in Japanese, I think.
    – sundowner
    Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 21:43
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    As a second thought, it may be possible to think that p.p. counterfactual's ていれば is also a state description, along the lines of if things were in the state that X had been done.
    – sundowner
    Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 21:48
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    @Kyuu Both とれば/とっていれば work. I think in English too, if I got*/*if I had got two more points work more or less while had got is the correct one if you think strictly (it's about a past non-fact, so it needs to use the past perfect). English has lost independent forms for conditional mood, and as such, I feel there's some flexibility for the choice of tense in if-clause practically though the flexibility is not completely parallel to that of Japanese (I may be wrong).
    – sundowner
    Commented Feb 3 at 4:28

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