I came across 若 from my lessons today, as in


Being familiar with 如果, I immediately assumed 若 is just a short/abbreviated/spoken form of 如果.

However, I broached the idea to my Chinese colleagues and they immediately pointed out instead that 若 in practice is a bit more stodgy version of 如果 primarily used among "elite" or pretentious types (more "formal" was their wording).

Nevertheless, this left me wondering if perhaps there's some historical truth to my initial suspicion.

  • 1
    You mean that you think might be a contraction of 如果? Like to 不用? 若 definitely pre-dates 如果 by a big while.
    – Mou某
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 14:37
  • 2
    I agree with @user3306356, 若 predates 如果 by a long shot for the meaning if. 如果 can also be interpreted as a combination of 如 and 果, indicating a meaning according to (如) the result (果) --> if, while 若 doesn't imply anything like this. This being said, I think a solid case can be made for 若 and 如 being cognates. They both had an original meaning of submit to, and their OC reconstructions are /*nak/ (若) and /*na/ (如) (Baxter-Sagart) or /*njaɡ/ (若) and /*nja/ (如) (Zhenzhang).
    – dROOOze
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 15:18
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    @droooze is correct and should put this as an answer, not a comment.
    – KWeiss
    Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 10:36
  • @KWeiss I'm not sure that I am correct...如果 = 如 + 果 and 若 and 如 being cognates are merely speculations on my behalf, and I don't have any references for them. That comment was merely to provide some ideas for a convincing, well-researched answer to be written.
    – dROOOze
    Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 16:48
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    如果 as 若 is not like 不用 as 甭. You can say 若 as "if", say 如果 as "if", and even say 如 as "if".
    – NoobTW
    Commented Jul 27, 2018 at 1:46

4 Answers 4


It's not likely that 若 is a contraction of 如果, because 若 came first by a thousand years or so.

Nor is it likely that 如果 is a splitting of 若, because 果 is real. Long before 如果 there was already 若果, and before 若果, 果 was already grammaticalized to mean "ultimately" ("bear fruit" -> "ultimately", see 果然, 果真).

So 若果 was a legitimate, intensified version of 若. As for how 若果 became 如果, we can speculate that it was an easy phonetic and etymological transition: 如果 [nja kojʔ] and 若果 [njak kojʔ] would have sounded almost identical even before the loss of stop finals post-MC, and 如 ("follow" -> "compares with/likens to") and 若 ("obey" -> "as if/if") are grammaticalized in similar, if subtly different ways.

  • Are there other examples of this? This sounds like an interesting evolution of language.
    – user31212
    Commented Mar 2, 2022 at 13:06

This is an example of “分音词”, literally "a word that split the pronunciation". The new words are created using "反切".

Some examples:

  • 若(ruo4)/如果(ru2 guo3) (if)
  • 孔(kong3)/窟窿(ku1 long0) (hole)
  • 块(kuai4)/坷垃(ke1 la0)(a solid piece of something, 坷垃 only exists in some dialects)

I would recommend these pages on Chinese Wikipedia: https://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E5%88%86%E9%9F%B3%E8%AF%8D (分音词) https://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E5%A4%8D%E8%BE%85%E9%9F%B3 (复辅音, the reason why this would happen)


This is interesting, I never realize 如果 sounds like 若. But I don't think it is a contraction.

We can find 若 in very old book.

反国,将为乱。——《史记·赵世家》 (about B.C. 90)

We all know multiple-characters words arise in modern Chinese. We can not find 如果 in classical text.

儒林外史.第十六回:「如果文章會做,我提拔他。」 (about A.D. 1749)

There is a more old-fasioned word than 如果, 若果.

这英莲受了拐子这几年折磨,才得了个路头,若果聚合了,倒是件美事。——《红楼梦》 (about A.D. 1744)

  • 1
    「如果」is found as early as the Yuan Dynasty. 《前漢書平話》卷上: “如果不利, 截旗營前, 以定勝敗驗之。” Do you count Yuan texts as classical?
    – dROOOze
    Commented Mar 9, 2018 at 7:14
  • one feature of 平话 is that they are very closed to 'spoken language', and my two quotes are also written in ancient, but the style is also 半文半白. Maybe they can prove that 如果 is used more in oral texts.
    – sfy
    Commented Mar 9, 2018 at 11:13

As a Chinese, I would like to say that there are big difference between 若 and 如果. 若 comes from traditional Chinese in the history, and it represents IF. After we have been in moderntime, we use 如果 as an oral communication way. And it is not welcomed to use 若 in daily life, as you said that is has a meaning of ELITE, which means I KNOW MORE THAN YOU. PS. In fact not everyone can do well in tradition Chinese, because it is difficult for we Chinese as well. Of course, if you are in a formal occasion, it is ok.

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