In RDG I found this sentence:


said after a very shy and introverted character smiles; I understand that means something like "So you can smile normally", but I don't understand what nuances adds the construction ば-potential. I tried looking for it on my grammars and on the Internet, and I also tried looking here for "ば potential" and for constructions like that (笑えば笑える, 買えば買える, etc.), but I wasn't able to find anything about this construction.

What do a construction like that mean? How does it differ from 君って普通に笑えるんだ?

  • 1
    やればできる and なせばなる are common and seem relevant. (Just throwing out that because I'm not sure if I can explain those phrases well.) Nov 14, 2022 at 13:06
  • This could actually be very useful: やればできる literally is "If you do [it], you can do [it]", meaning "So if you try, you can do it", "You could do it, the only thing blocking you it's you are not even trying". Can this be generalized? If so, ば-potential would mean something along "You could do [verb], you just have to try", and in the sentence in question "So you can smile, you just usually don't even try". If this is right, the difference with just the potential is, I think, the stress on "you just aren't even trying" as cause that's preventing the action. Does this sound right?
    – Mauro
    Nov 14, 2022 at 14:15

1 Answer 1


The X+ば+X+potential form is can X with implication that X is rare/difficult or some reticence on the doer's part.

So 笑えば笑える here is used precisely because of the shyness of the character. The difference from 君って普通に笑えるんだ? is:

  1. 君って普通に笑えるんだ? Oh you can smile normally
  2. 君って普通に笑えば笑えるんだ Oh, you do smile!

1 is a little odd because (specific illnesses aside) people can smile.

I think the pattern is productive but not applicable for every verb. 買えば買える is a little odd to me. X+(よ)うとすれば+X+potential may be more widely usable: 買おうと思えば買える, which would mean can afford (though the price is substantial = poses some difficulty to pay).

As commented, there are a bunch of similar phrases like

  • やればできる can do (if one is willing enough)
  • なせばなる can do (if one is willing enough/tries very hard)
  • 知る人ぞ知る some people do know (if it is not super famous).

Another similar pattern is 好きな人は好きな. For example,

  • 好きな人は好きな味

means literally a taste people who love love. Here again, there is some implied 'rarity' and the phrase usually refers to 'love it or hate it' kind of thing (natto, Dr.Pepper, marmite, etc.).

  • The pattern X+(よ)うとすれば+X+potential has the same meaning of X + ば + X + potential?
    – Mauro
    Nov 14, 2022 at 19:12
  • 1
    @Mauro Generally yes. 買おうとすれば買える/行こうと思えば行ける/笑おうとすれば笑える. I feel this form is more common especially with と思えば.
    – sundowner
    Nov 15, 2022 at 10:32

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