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Why the conditional is used?

IsaacDavid

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[Hello] を日本語で何と言えばいいですか. Translation: how do you say "hello" in japanese?. Why is used the conditional in this question?
 

mdchachi

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Because this is the standard grammatical pattern for this kind of thing.

If you start with the general case without asking the "what" question it might make more sense.
こんにちはと言えばいいです。→ It's good if you say "Konnichiha." (or, You should say "Konnichiha.")
お酒を飲めばいいです。→ It's good if you drink sake. (or, You should drink sake.)

Now consider the question with "what":
何を飲めばいいですか? → What is good if I drink it? (i.e. what should I drink?)
何と言えばいいですか? → What is good if I say it? (i.e. what should I say?)
[Hello] を日本語で何と言えばいいですか → What is good if I say 'Hello' in Japanese? (i.e. How do you say 'Hello' in Japanese?)
 

Buntaro

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Isaac,

I want to emphasize that this particular form of the Japanese conditional, the ~すればいい form, is often translated into English as “should”.

(どう)すればいい(ですか?) (What) should (I do?)

Your example, 日本語で何と言えばいいですか, could be translated as “How (should) I say this in Japanese?” (which sounds strange in English).

Another example:

この本を読めばいいですか? Should I read this book?

In addition, ~すればいい is often paired with the phase でしょう to mean “I wonder if I should…”

この本を読めばいいでしょうか。I wonder if I should read this book.

彼女にこれを上げばいいでしょうか。I wonder if I should give this to her.

Another example of the Japanese conditional which works the same as ~すればいい is “~ったらいい” (meaning “should”).

どうしったらいいですか? What should I do?

どうしったらいいでしょうか。 I wonder what should I do.

彼女にこれを上げったらいいでしょうか。I wonder if I should give this to her.

(I also think the ~すればいい form is more polite than the ったらいい form, but I am not sure about this. Let's see what other people say.)
 
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mdchachi

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No idea about the comparison of ~ばいい to ~ったらいい. Seems like that would be neutral.
If I wanted to be more polite, I'd change いい to よろしい. Or throw an いかが in there. Depending on who is speaking to whom.
 

Toritoribe

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There is another similar expression "the dictionary form といい" (e.g. この本を読むといいです), but this expression is usually not used in a question, thus, お酒を飲むといいですか sounds a bit awkward.

As for ~たら conditional, It's "past form + ら", i.e., "What should I do?" is どうしたらいいですか. したら means 知ったら, not the -tara conditional of する. Similarly, it's 上げたら for 上げる, not 上げたら.
 
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