The Japanese language is known for its heavy omission of all sorts of words when they can be inferred from context: objects, subjects, and even particles (tiny words that act as grammatical glue in a way similar to prepositions). Even simple everyday sentences like “食べた” (“I ate it”) can have multiple omissions (in that case, both the object and subject).
By and large, the skill of inferring subjects and objects of verbs from context can be picked up with enough practice, but there are some cases where it can be trickier to guess what word is being omitted. In this article I’d like to focus on one such pattern: “~shitara to” (〜したらと）
“Shitara” represents any verbs in the “~tara” condition form, which roughly means “if” or “when” the verb happens (see this article for more details). The “to” in “~shitara to” is a particle used for quoting something, whether it is a thought or something verbally said.
Let’s look at an example sentence with one of the most common uses of “~shitara to” and see if we can infer the meaning.
- がんばりますので応援していただけたらと思います。 (ganbarimasu node ouen shite itadaketara to omoimasu.)
First we have to recognize that “itadaketara” is the “~tara” conditional form of the potential form of “itadaku” (to receive). But this example is further complicated by another verb in the “te” form before this word, “shite” (the “te” form of “suru”, meaning “to do”).
It turns out “~te itadaku” is a grammatical pattern meaning that the speaker is “receiving” an action from someone else, in other words they are benefitting from someone doing something for them (see this article for more on this usage). In any case, the phrase “ouen shite itadaketara” roughly means something like “If you would be able to support me”.
The “to” is simply used to quote the “ouen shite itadaketara” part as what is being thought (or felt) by the verb “omou”.
Now if we literally translate this entire sentence we end up with:
- I will do my best, so I think that if you would be able to support me.
Of course, this is not a complete sentence grammatically because there is no “then” part, and in English generally such an omission is not made (except for cases where ellipses is used or equivalent fading away is used when speaking, i.e. “Well, if you don’t help me…”)
So what is being implied after the “~tara” word in this case? It turns out it is a word with a positive meaning, such as “ii” (good) or “ureshii” (happy). In fact you can write/speak the sentence with either of these words before the “to” and it will sound natural. (These are just two examples though, other words could be used as well.)
So now we can more appropriately translate the sentence as:
* I will do my best, so I think that if you would be able to support me I would be happy.
On a translation note, just because a word is being omitted in Japanese doesn’t mean we have to try and omit a similar word in English. That would be forcing too literal of a translation and might lead to an awkward result. But the above is still a bit awkward in a few respects, let’s refine it a bit more:
- I will do my best, so I would appreciate if you can support me.
One interesting variation of this pattern is to add a “na” (な) or “naa” (なあ) in between the “~tara” word and the “to”. For example:
- がんばりますので応援していただけたらなと思います。 (ganbarimasu node ouen shite itadaketara na to omoimasu.)
“Na” or “naa” is most frequently used at the end of a sentence to show some level of emotion towards something (ex: “atsui na” => “oh boy it’s hot”). In the above case the “na(a)” is not at the end, but the same meaning is implied. (…shite itadaketara ii (na) to…)
While the “~shitara to” form is commonly used with “~te itadakeru” or “~te moraeru”, you can also use it with simpler patterns, for example:
- いつか会えたらと思います. (itsuka aetara to omoimasu.)
- [I] think [it would be nice] if [we] could meet someday.
In the above translation, the parts in brackets are only implied by the sentence.
While we are on the topic of expressions where some word is commonly omitted, I want to talk about another case where a word is sometimes omitted with the “~tara” form. Let’s look at this single-word sentence:
- やめたら？ (yametara?)
This sentence––if you can even call it that––omits a few things. Not only is the subject missing (which we can infer to be “you” since it is a question), but there is nothing after the “~tara” form. A literal translation of the this (assuming the subject is “you”) becomes:
- If you stop it?
This clearly doesn’t make any sense. Formally speaking, the “~tara” form is not something you can really turn into a question, but once we see what is missing things will become clearer. “Yametara” is really a short form for something like:
- やめたらどう？ (yametara dou?)
The “~tara dou” form, where “dou” is a question word meaning “how” or “what”, is an aggressive way of making a request (trying to understand the grammar of this pattern may be a little tricky, so I would suggest for now just to memorize the pattern). Perhaps the closest English translation would be something like:
- Why don’t you stop?
- Would you stop it?
So whenever we have a “~tara” form at the end of a question sentence (which when spoken would have a rising intonation at the end), it is generally implying a strong request like this.
Is there any sentence you’ve struggled with in Japanese that seems to have something omitted? Let me know in the comments.