Chinese grammar de hua (的话): expressing "if" in Chinese with de hua

In Chinese grammar de hua (的话) is a very common and important word. It is used either alone or in combination with other words to express “if”. De hua is probably the most common way to express “if” in Chinese, in fact. Because of this, all students of Mandarin Chinese should be familiar with how to use this word, and that’s what this guide is for.

The simplest way to use 的话 is to place it right after a phrase, which will make it into a “if” statement. The structure is:

[phrase] 的话

Let’s have a look at some examples of these “if” statements:

你去北京的话……

nǐ qù Běijīng dehuà......

if you go to Beijing...

他喜欢的话……

tā xǐhuan dehuà......

if he likes it...

我们弄丢了的话……

wǒmen nòng diūle dehuà......

if we've lost it...

You can see how adding 的话 to the end of a phrase in Chinese works the same as adding “if” in front of a phrase in English. Now lets have a look at a few full example sentences for 的话:

你喜欢的话就多吃点。

Nǐ xǐhuan dehuà jiù duō chī diǎn.

If you like it, eat a bit more.

我们弄丢了的话,怎么办?

Wǒmen nòng diūle dehuà, zěnme bàn?

If we've lost it, what'll we do?

不是他们的话,那么又会是谁?

Bùshì tāmen dehuà, nàme yòu huì shì shuí ne?

If it wasn't them, then who else could it be?

This structure is the simplest way to use de hua in Chinese, but this word can also be combined with others in slightly more complex structures.

Chinese grammar de hua with other words

As mentioned above, 的话 can also be used in combination with other words to express “if”. Each of these words is placed _before _the statement, and 的话 is placed after it as usual. This can alter the register (formality) and tone of the sentence.

要是……的话 (yàoshi……dehuà)

The least formal of the words we’re covering here is probably 要是……的话. This is a very common way to express “if” in Chinese. The structure is:

要是 [statement] 的话

As you can see, 要是 goes before the statement and 的话 is placed after it. Here’s a quick example sentence:

要是去北京的话,一定要看一下天安门广场。

Yàoshi qù Běijīng dehuà, yīdìng yào kàn yīxià tiān'ānmén guǎngchǎng.

If you go to Beijing, definitely have a look at Tiananmen Square.

Note that in all these examples, 的话 is optional and can be left out.

如果……的话 (rúguǒ……dehuà)

The next structure is 如果……的话, and it’s just a little bit more formal than 要是……的话. It’s still not particularly formal though, and you can use it day to day in normal speech. An example:

如果不努力学习的话,就考不上大学。

Rúguǒ bù nǔlì xuéxí dehuà, jiù kǎo bù shàng dàxué.

If you don't study hard, you won't be able to get into university.

万一……的话 (wànyī……dehuà)

This structure is slightly different to the others in this article. It’s not a general purpose word for “if”. Instead, it’s more like “in the unlikely event that”. Here’s an example:

万一我来晚的话,请不要等我。

Wàn yī wǒ lái wǎn dehuà, qǐng bùyào děng wǒ.

If by any chance I arrive late, please don't wait for me.

假如……的话 (jiǎrú……dehuà)

Moving up the formality scale, we get to 假如……的话. This is not a general purpose “if” word either. 假如 is used only to express totally hypothetical situations that currently aren’t true, rather than simple options or alternatives. An example:

假如我有一双翅膀的话,我会在蓝天飞翔。

Jiǎrú wǒ yǒu yīshuāng chìbǎng dehuà, wǒ huì zài lántiān fēixiáng.

If I had wings, I would fly in the blue sky.

假设……的话 (jiǎshè……dehuà)

Another special purpose word, 假设 means more than just “if”. It also includes the sense of “supposing”. Again, it’s for more hypothetical, non-true situations. An example:

假设李先生从来没来过这里的话,那他怎么可能是凶手呢?

Jiǎshè li xiānshēng cónglái méi láiguò zhèlǐ dehuà, nà tā zěnme kěnéng shì xiōngshǒu ne?

Supposing Mr Li had never been here, then how could he be the killer?

假使……的话 (jiǎshǐ……dehuà)

This is the last of the hypothetical, “supposing” if words here. 假使 is probably the most formal of these (as always, if you don’t agree, please leave a comment below).

假使你遇到这种问题的话,你怎么办?

Jiǎshǐ nǐ yù dào zhè zhǒng wèntí dehuà, nǐ zěnme bàn?

What if you encounter this kind of problem - then what will you do?

若是……的话 (ruòshì……dehuà)

Now we’re back on to the true, general purpose “if” words. These last two are more formal than the rest. The first is 若是. Here’s an example:

若是一切可以重来的话,我不会再那样对他了。

Ruòshì yīqiè kěyǐ chóng lái dehuà, wǒ bù huì zài nàyàng duì tāle.

If I could do everything again, I wouldn't treat him like that.

倘若……的话 (tǎngruò……dehuà)

This last one is very formal and not for casual use. The writer鲁迅 (Lu Xun) was particularly fond of this expression in his writing. It’s just a very formal way to say “if”. Here’s an example:

倘若分裂的话,我们则无所作为。

Tǎngruò fēnliè dehuà, wǒmen zé wúsuǒzuòwéi.

If we are divided, we will achieve nothing.

Got questions? Suggestions? Please share them in the comments!

See also:

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