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In the Pimsleur Mandarin course it uses 如果 (rúguǒ) to mean 'if', but the dictionary shows 要是 (yàoshì) to have a similar meaning:

如果: if; in case; in the event that
要是: if

Are there any differences between the meanings of the two, and how should I choose which to use?

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  • 1
    +1 Good question :) – Alenanno Feb 7 '12 at 20:18
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    Wow Chinese etymology (or how words are composed) is wonderful. 要是 -> want to be -> if – Petruza Feb 10 '12 at 12:59
  • On a personal level, this is how I would use the two terms. (1) I'll use 如果 for an event which has not happened, but has the possibility of happening. (2) And 要是 for the probable "re-happening" of a past event. E.g. 如果你不听我的劝告,我就不理你了;要是你再次不听我的劝告,我就不理你了 I just feel that 要是 seems to carry a more sombre / sterner / accusative tone, and more suggestive of the above connotation. – Wayne Cheah Mar 18 at 4:20
17

In my opinion, they mean the same:"if". "要是" is a little informal and more common in oral speaking, while "如果" is formal, I think, but you will see both of them in books.

I could only catch up with one differences in use between them. For "要是“, because there is a "是" inside, when the verb in the "if-clause" is "是(to be)", "是" can be ommitted, however, "是" can't be ommitted when using "如果”.

Some examples:

要是我,[我]就不会那么做。 If [it were] me, [I] won't do that way.

如果是我,[我]就不会那么做。If [it were] me, [I] won't do that way.

Also, I don't agree with Tom Au that only "要是" has a "wish" mood. I think "如果" can be used in this case too.

要是我有100万就好了。 It's good if I have 1 million,really means I wish I could have 1 million

如果我有100万就好了。 It's good if I have 1 million,really means I wish I could have 1 million

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The difference is quite slight. The word '要是' is, typically, an oral expression of 'if', it's fine to use it in usual talk, but might be improper to use it in any formal text.

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  • Does 如果 sounds more formal when speaking? – Cocowalla Feb 7 '12 at 19:42
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    Sol Wood, do you mind adding examples so I can see how they work in actual sentences? – Alenanno Feb 7 '12 at 20:19
  • Wrong, many modern literature/poem use 要是 in them. It might add some casual style but it is okay to use it in formal text. – lamwaiman1988 Feb 8 '12 at 2:49
  • “如果” is fine to be used anywhere, but "要是",like I said, is more casual in tone, it's ok to use it in lyrics, speeches, or scenario, but you will never see that in a declaration, contract or treaty,etc. – Sol Feb 8 '12 at 7:49
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To me the biggest difference is "flavor". Sometimes I like the way one sounds, sometimes I like the way the other sounds. For example, I think if I were giving someone an ultimatum, I might use 如果 because to me in that situation it sounds stronger and more consequential, whereas 要是 might feel weaker or more matter-of-fact (if you do this, such-and-such will happen). This might just be my own personal preference - I'm not sure if other people feel the same way or not.

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The following graphics show some differences in usage of 如果 and 要是: ru-guoyao-shi

Sources (with Sample Sentences): 1, 2

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There is paper with 20 pages which described the difference between 如果 and 要是, but it is in Chinese. I don't have the time to translate it now. Must edit later.

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    Yikes, 20 pages! A synopsis would be great when you get a chance :) – Cocowalla Feb 8 '12 at 8:58
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要是 might be translated, if, supposing. There is a "wish" element to this construction.

如果 also means, "if" (in case) as the OP postulated, in a strictly factual sense.

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    Do you mind adding examples so I can see how they work in actual sentences? – Alenanno Feb 7 '12 at 20:19
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我要是知道,我早知道你了。 If I knew, I would have told you.

我如果知道,我会告诉你。If I know (in the future), I will tell you.

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Why do you make the problem so complex? if you just learn Chinese to Communicate in life,you need not differentiate them completely.They almost have the same meaning in spoken language,you can use both of them in spoken language. Certainly,“如果” is more official than "要是".If you write an article or report,you should use "如果".

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