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I picked up a bad habit of using ~たら (a form of conditional) when I mean ~てから (once something happens, something else will happen) from a friend many years back while learning Japanese.

In the years since, I learned the difference and felt bad when I still used たら out of habit. But, I was just thinking, since there are spoken short forms of various ~て forms (~ておく → ~とく、~ている → ~てる) and I can't help but wonder if this is another case like that.

In short, is ~たら one of the spoken contractions of ~てから?

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I'm not the first to say "No", but I want to actually show where ~たら comes from, if it's not an abbreviated form of ~てから. Consider it a proof of sorts. :)

The Classical Japanese of early Heian period had a form called ~たり form, which was used for several jobs that today are fulfilled by the ~た, ~て and (the modern) ~たり forms. This form was attached to the renyōkei (連用形), which is the verb stem that ends in I for Godan verbs (this is the stem to which you attach the ~ます or ~たい endings).

The ~たり form was later shortened to ~た in speech and became the past form we all known and love today, but before that, it was actually used to build a few other forms. Now, the ~たり form was actually creating a new verb (just like adding the potential, passive or causative endings to a verb today create a new verb), so it had it's own stem to which other endings could be attached. One of them was the old hypothetical ending ~ば (actually, the famous particle は which became ば after the verb). ば was attached to the mizenkei (未然形), which is the verb stem that ends in A for Godan verbs (this is the stem to which you attach the ~ない ending used for negation). Since, the mizenkei of ~たり was naturally ~たら, the whole thing together was ~たらば, which at sometime became a very common complex form for conditionals. e.g. (I invented this up myself, so it's probably not quite authentic):

書きたらば、死ぬ。 If you write, you die.

In modern Japanese, the classical ~ば form became the modern conditional ~ば which is now attached to the E stem (已然形 izenkei), and is much better known as the -eba conditional ending. But what happened to the complex ~たらば~ form? It was shortened to ~たら, but also started using the different base that ~て and ~た forms (the later also a shortened form of ~たり) were using. In Ichidan verbs (such as 見る or 食べる) this is still the same as good old renyōkei, but in godan verb, a few changes occured:

  • wakari + tara -> wakar + tara -> wakat + tara -> wakattara
  • kaki + tara -> kai + tara -> kaitara
  • oyogi + tara -> oyoi + (voice) + tara -> oyoi + dara -> oyoidara
  • mati + tara -> mat + tara -> mattara

There are more, but that's the gist of it.

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  • oh, very nice answer. Can you also tell me where ~てから comes from for contrast? Jun 9, 2011 at 17:30
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    @Boaz: Two things: 1. Do you teach a class on classical Japanese? 2. If so, where can I sign up? Jun 9, 2011 at 17:33
  • @Derek: I wish. I have hard time reading Classical Japanese myself, and I remember only a little bit of the grammar. :( But being a linguist has its perks: I check some books written in linguistic mumbo-jumbo (which turns out to be really useful as a shortcut) and compare everything. In this case I remembered something about たら coming from たらば, but I didn't know all these details before checking the books.
    – Boaz Yaniv
    Jun 9, 2011 at 18:48
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    @Jeshi: I think the origin of ~てから is much simpler. In essence, this is just the regular te-form + the directional particle から. The te-form itself exists, as far as I know, back in Old Japanese as a particle (て)which is joined to the renyōkei.
    – Boaz Yaniv
    Jun 9, 2011 at 19:05
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    What do you mean by “E stem (以前系 izenkei)”? In my knowledge of the modern Japanese grammar, the forms before ば is called 仮定形 (かていけい) (but I am not sure how foreign learners usually learn verb forms). The Classical Japanese has a verb form called 已然形 (いぜんけい), but its use is different. Jun 9, 2011 at 23:07
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Short answer: No.

~ておく and ~ている can become ~とく and ~てる because they have consecutive vowels, which are easily slurred/elided, but to get ~てから to become ~たら, you'd have to drop a consonant, which I don't believe ever happens in Japanese (but I would welcome a correction here). In addition, the ~たら and ~てから forms have different functions grammatically, so you can't simply interchange them without considering the context and the rest of the sentence.

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  • I had a feeling that would be the case. Good point about removing the consonant... I'll see if I can't think of any counter examples. :) Jun 9, 2011 at 15:41
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    As a side note, there is a ~ったら ending, used, for example, after a person's name. It carries a different meaning that indicates the user's exasperation or annoyance with the person, but has nothing to do with either ~たら or ~てから. But, you probably know this. :) Jun 9, 2011 at 15:54
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    Actually consonant-dropping happened quite a lot in Japanese, but it usually was with "weak" vowels such as /u/ and /i/ and not with /a/. One prominent case is the き that used to be the attributive (rentaikei) ending of adjectives in classical Japanese and became just い in the modern language. So instead of 白き花 we now say 白いはな. Anyway, in this case you are correct: ~たら is note a shortened form of ~てから.
    – Boaz Yaniv
    Jun 9, 2011 at 16:49
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    Dropping a consonant happens a lot, especially in casual speech: だっただろう->だったろう, わからない->わかんない, あたたかい->あったかい, etc.
    – Amanda S
    Jun 9, 2011 at 18:55
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    @Amanda: You're absolutely right. Curiously, looking at that list, the condensed syllables come from the same vowel row. Are there any such contractions that go across vowel rows? Jun 9, 2011 at 19:37
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I would say No.

たら has sense of "if ... then ...."

てから "... then ..."

Following with たら is ok

雨が降ったら出かけないことにする。If it rains, I won't go outside.

but following with てから is kinda strange.

雨が降ってから出かけないことにする After it rains, I won't go outside.

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