I'm here for yet another confusing thing from the Dictionary of Japanese Grammar. In the ば conditional, it states the following:

S2 can be a command, a request, or a suggestion, as in Exs. (e) and (f). In this case, however, S1 cannot be an action.

(e) 見たければ見なさい。 If you want to see it, see it.
(f) 出来ればこれもやってください。 Please do this, too, if you can.

I cannot wrap my head around why the given sentences are actually not action, when they are in fact verbs.

From what I reckon though, it's because they are not exactly actions. Example (e) is the conditional of the desire form of 見る, hence what is actually being brought into question there is the desire of seeing. Meanwhile, Example (f) is the conditional of the potential form of する; hence here what is actually being questioned is the ability to do, not the act of doing it.

So to summarize; when a verb is not exactly in the indicative form, and are instead in other forms such as the desire or potential form, they are not considered actions. Is my understanding correct?

1 Answer 1


Let me start by saying that verb need not be equated with action. The verb to be in English is definitely a verb, but you're not doing anything (and if you want to say you are, then we've gone off into the land of philosophy). Think of action as something actually performed, actually done. To verb isn't necessary to do; it can also just be a state of being.

There's a difference between saying みる and みたい. With みる, you're actually doing something, you're seeing something. However, みたい is rather different. There is no doing being done. みたい describes, not an action, but a frame of mind, a desire for something.

It's the same with using the potential form. When you say, 食べられる you're not really doing anything. You're definitely not eating. 食べられる describes what you're capable of doing.

In English we don't really care about these distinctions. So that creates a bit of a challenge.

Now, what I am not sure about is verbs like 見える and 聞こえる. These are both potential forms, but they are used a bit differently. For example,

Suppose you were out in the woods bird watching. You could ask your fellow birdwatcher


It would sound very strange to ask


So, I wonder whether the following is grammatical.


I suspect that because it is a potential form, it still falls safely within the realm where such a conditional construction is grammatical.

  • It should be 見えれば, not 見えば. As for the grammaticality of the sentence, it sounds no different from 鳥が来れば写真を撮ってください to me, where 来る is definitely an action (of the bird). I wonder if the book says S1 cannot be an action of the listener, the same person the command, request, or suggestion of S2 is meant for, or any action.
    – aguijonazo
    May 28, 2021 at 21:31
  • @aguijonazo so you’re saying in your sample くれば sounds fine?
    – A.Ellett
    May 28, 2021 at 22:03
  • @aguijonazo ah! so if one thinks of 鳥がみえれば as “the bird is visible” then all is good. yes, this makes good sense.
    – A.Ellett
    May 28, 2021 at 22:05
  • Actually, I'm not sure. It doesn't sound too awful. 鳥が見えれば sounds no more, or less, grammatical in comparison.
    – aguijonazo
    May 28, 2021 at 22:12
  • In terms of the book (DJG), it’s grammatical when 鳥が見えれば means that you have ability to see the bird, not that you see the bird, or 鳥が見えたら.
    – user4092
    May 29, 2021 at 7:27

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