436 - さえ~ば

Confession time.

The grammar point we're looking at today is one that I learned in my first or second year of studying Japanese.

And yet, I wasn't able to use this lesson's grammar point until my fourth or fifth year of studying.

There are a couple reasons for this.

First, most of what I learned was from studying by myself with various books and online resources, so I never had chances to practice what I was learning. I should rephrase that: I never went out of my way to find opportunities to practice speaking Japanese.

Second, back then I was in such a rush to learn Japanese that I went through most learning resources far too quickly. This lowered my retention drastically.

But maybe you'll be different than me. Maybe you can master this grammar point on your first try.

I'll try to help along the way...

JLPT N3: さえ~ば (whenever; if only; as long as)

Let's cannonball into our pool of examples:

この ほん を よみ さえ すれば、 ぶっきょう に くわしく なれます よ。
If you just read this book, you can learn all about Buddhism.
Literally: “this + book + を + reading + さえ + if you do, + Buddhism + に + well-informed + can become + よ.”
Note: A slightly more literal translation might be, "If you just read this book, you can become knowledgeable about Buddhism."

さえすれば? What sorcery is this?

Well, we have two clauses in our sentence:

Clause #1:
この ほん を よむ
Read this book
Literally: “this + book + を + read”

Clause #2:
ぶっきょう に くわしく なれます よ。
You can become knowledgeable about Buddhism.
Literally: “Buddhism + に + well-informed + can become + よ.”

We want to combine these two clauses to say:

If you just C1, C2.
If you just read this book, you can become knowledgeable about Buddhism.

The Japanese version looks a little like this:

Read this book さえすれば, you can become knowledgeable about Buddhism.

Phrased another way, for the situation in Clause #2, "you can become knowledgeable about [can learn all about] Buddhism," to occur, the conditions in Clause #1 must occur first.

The nuance is that as long as the conditions in Clause #1 are realized, Clause #2 can occur.

C1 さえ ~ば、C2.
Whenever C1, C2.
If only C1, C2.
As long as C1, C2.

I'm guessing that some of you have lots of questions right about now.

What does it mean when a verb ends in ~ば?

Will the verb always be すれば (=する)?

What comes in front of さえ?

Let's take these questions one at a time.

How to conjugate ~ば form verbs.

This will be covered in an N4 lesson, but ~ば is an ending given to one type of conditional verbs in Japanese. In other words, when a verb ends in ~ば, it means "if VERB." That is a massive generalization, since conditionals are a bit tricky in Japanese. So use with caution.

To conjugate a verb into it's ~ば form, just take the final "u" sound of the verb and change it to "e," then add ば.

For example (I'll use romaji to make this clearer):

食べる → 食べれば
taberu → tabereba
to eat→ if one eats

飲む → 飲めば
nomu → nomeba
to drink → if one drinks

辞める → 辞めれば
yameru → yamereba
to quit → if one quits

ある → あれば
aru → areba
to have; to be → if one has / is

する → すれば
suru → sureba
to do → if one does

Now, how do we use ~ば form verbs with さえ?

Well, it's complicated...

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Construction #1:

When a verb comes before さえ, we use its masu-stem.

V-masu-stem + さえ + すれ
if one just VERBs; as long as one VERBs

読む(よむ // to read
読みます(よみます // read
読みさえすれよみさえすれば // if one just reads; as long as one reads

やる(to do)
やりさえすれif one just does; as long as one does

That wasn't too bad, right?

Maybe we can even handle another example:

しょくぶつ は みず を やり さえ すれば そだつ という わけではない。
If all you do is just give plants water, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll grow.
Literally: “plants + は + water + を + giving + さえ + if you do + grow up / be raised + という + it does not mean that (=わけではない).”

That's a bit tricky because it's a negative example. Let's see what happens if we remove that very last part:

しょくぶつ は みず を やり さえ すれば そだつ。
If you just give plants water, they’ll grow.
Literally: “plants + は + water + を + giving + さえ + if you do + grow up / be raised.”

If you just C1, C2.
If you just give plants water, they'll grow.
Give plants water さえすれば, they'll grow.

We just happened to complicate things by adding というわけではない to say that this sentence is not true:

しょくぶつ は みず を やり さえ すれば そだつ という わけではない。
If all you do is just give plants water, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll grow.
Literally: “plants + は + water + を + giving + さえ + if you do + grow up / be raised + という + it does not mean that (=わけではない).”

We're going to move on now, but before we do take some time to really grasp this first formation.

If you try to learn all of the constructions of さえ~ば at once, you might get confused.

So first, let's master the construction of V-masu-stem + さえ + すれ.

Maybe make a goal of using this specific formation in a Japanese conversation before you attempt the other constructions we'll see below.

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Construction #2:

Although we had only すれば coming after さえ when it followed a verb's masu-stem, we can use a variety of verbs and i-adjectives conjugated into ~ば form after nouns.

In short, when a noun comes before さえ, the ~ば form word will not necessarily be すれば.

NOUN + さえ + ~

水(みず // water
ある → あれば (to have; to be → if one has / if there is)

みず さえ あれば
if one just has water; as long as there is water

料金(りょうきん // fee; charge
安い(やすい // cheap; inexpensive; affordable
→ 安ければ(やすければ // if s.t. is cheap; if s.t. is inexpensive)
Note: Notice that i-adjectives in ~ば form end in ~ければ.

りょうきん さえ やすければ
as long as the price is cheap

Are you with me still?

If not, maybe start the lesson over.

If so, it's example time...

にんげん は みず さえ あれば、 すくなくとも いっしゅうかん は いきられる。
If they just have water, humans can live for at least a week.
Literally: “humans + は + water + さえ + if they have / if there is, + at the least + one week’s time + は + can live.”

りょうきん さえ やすければ、 ひこうき は さいこう の いどう しゅだん だ。
As long as the price is cheap, flying is the best means of travel.
Literally: “fee / charge + さえ + if it’s cheap, + airplanes + は + the best / the highest + の + movement + method / means + だ.”

Like we did earlier, make sure that you're comfortable with Construction #2 before we move on.

Next, we're looking at some special ways to form these sentences, but for the most part the stuff you want to master using has already been covered. Be stoked.

Level-Up Item #1

Time to get 上手 (じょうず // skilled).

We can also use this formation:

Change an i-adjective so that it ends in ~く and pair with あれば.

遅い(おそい // late
→ 遅く(おそく // late
→ → 遅くさえあれおそくさえあれば // as long as it's late

しゅっきん じかん が もうすこし おそく さえ あれば、 いま の しごと は さいこう なのに。
If I could just go to work a little later in the day, my current job would be the best.
Literally: “going to work + time + が + a little more + late + さえ + if it was, + now + の + work / job + は + the best / the highest + なのに.”
Note: This (な)のに at the end adds the nuance of disappointment.

Similarly, we can add で to a na-adjective and pair it with あれば.

かぞく が げんき で さえ あれば、 それ で じゅうぶん です。
As long as my family is happy (and healthy), that's enough for me.
Literally: "family + が + cheerful / energetic / happy + で + さえ + if they are, + that + で + enough / plenty + です."

Are you starting to see why I was overwhelmed by this grammar point for so long? ^_^

Level-Up Item #2

When the word before さえ is a noun, we can also use "NOUN + なら" or "NA-ADJECTIVE + なら" instead of ~ば.

For example:

わたし さえ しあわせ なら
as long as I'm happy

Note that 幸せ (しあわせ) means "happy."

なら is another way that we form conditional phrases (="if" phrases) in Japanese. I won't get into how it's different than ~ば (or ~たら), since that is a tricky topic for another day. Sometimes it can help, though, to think of ~なら as meaning "if it is the case that..."

わたし さえ しあわせ なら、 ほか の ひと は どうでもいい。
As long as I’m happy, I don’t care about anyone else.
Literally: “I + さえ + happy + if it’s the case, + other + の + person + は + inconsequential + not worth worrying about (=どうでもいい).”

You made it to the end!

So what do you think? Maybe if you read through this lesson a few times, then go out and try to make some sentences of your own with さえ~ば, it won't take you years and years to master this grammar point (unlike me T_T).

Good luck!

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