What is the etymology behind "的话" in the common construct 如果...的话 or 要是...的话?

In addition to wondering about it's meaning, what exactly is the doing? Is it modifying the 如果? Is it modifying the phrase in between? Or is it somehow a possessive construct?

Any light you can shed on the subject would be appreciated.

(Note: I looked over this question but there is no real answer, accepted or otherwise.)

  • The answer by Lars Andren more or less explains what 的话 means in English. "If, say for example, blah blah blah..."
    – 杨以轩
    Commented Jan 9, 2014 at 2:17
  • 1
    I would translate 如果...的话 as if ... is the case. I'm not very sure, but I guess in most cases we can leave 的话 out.
    – hrzhu
    Commented Jan 9, 2014 at 4:32
  • en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E7%9A%84%E8%AF%9D it is an optional particle, and may be used with or without 如果 or 要是. Commented Jan 9, 2014 at 5:06
  • I know the meaning and the usage. I just don't know why that's the meaning and usage. Take this example: 你想看的话.... It translates to "If you want to watch..." but literally is, what, "You-want-to-watch type of words"? My best guess for meaning is "(In regards to) the words/case of you wanting to watch..." Does that sound right? Commented Jan 9, 2014 at 18:20

2 Answers 2


No, it doesn't modify 如果 or the phrase in between, and there's nothing to do with possessive constructs. I wouldn't even notice it when I speak, but when I think about it, I agree with hrzhu, that it can be loosely translated to is the case, the actual words don't have explicit meaning here.

I think 的话 provides a short pause, which gives the speaker a chance to actually think about the condition or assumption being said. It sometimes creates a tension, e.g. 如果我杀了你的话..., you can pause for many seconds here to frighten someone. Notice that ends with the [a] vowel, so people tend to lengthen it when they don't know what to say, and need a sec to think, e.g. 如果他是GAY的话......他就不会喜欢你.

So the idea is that with 的话, the 如果 clause sounds more natural, because the condition or assumption being said does sometimes need a sec for you to pause and think. Without 的话, it sounds quite abrupt, although it does work if you leave it out, in most cases. Personally I call these constructs the lubricant of the language.


Just like @congusbongus said, it's used as an optional part of 如果. In case of 你想看的话, you can consider 的话 is introduced implicitly by 如果. The introducer itself is omitted. Really no magic here.

  • My question is not about its usage or meaning, but rather about the origin. I know how to use it and do frequently, with and without 如果. Commented Jan 21, 2014 at 18:17

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