Conditional Sentences

Sun Tzu frequently employs reasoning in his text, like this:
If victory is long in coming, then men's weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be damped.

This is an example of a conditional sentence. Basically, conditionals may be of two types:

Here are a few examples from chapter 1 that show conditional sentences used by Sun Tzu:

Chapter 1, sentence 15.

The English mind map detail:

The Chinese mind map detail:

This discusses two conditions of a general: (1) the generals that follow your command, and (2) the generals that do not follow your command. For (1), you keep them, and for (2) you dismiss them. Sun Tzu also gives reasons for why you react differently to these two groups of generals - for (1) they will conquer, and for (2) they will suffer defeat.

This is a very neat thumb-rule for evaluating your generals, using a clear one-cut separation.

Chapter 1, Sentence 19-24.

Sun Tzu considers in paragraph 18-25, at how to deceive the enemy and when. The text as given by Giles, looks like this:
 18. All warfare is based on deception.
 19. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our
 forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the
 enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him
 believe we are near.
 20. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.
 21. If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in
 superior strength, evade him.
 22. If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him.
 Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant.
 23. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them.
 24. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.
 25. These military devices, leading to victory, must not be divulged beforehand.

This could be structured as follows:


The first pass mind map detail.

Looking at the Chinese version, we see this:

We notice that the English translation makes use of different expressions to translate this list of conditions: when, to, if, where. In the original Chinese text, as you can see from the Chinese mind map, these sentences all follow a clear structure:

(in case of) A, do B.

A is some possible condition of your enemy: able to attack, using their forces, getting close etc., and B is what Sun Tzu suggest you to do under each condition: make them unable, make them unable to use their forces, get away from them, etc.

The 而 (ér) character indicates the logical relation between condition A and your reaction B, and the character 之 (zhī) is the Chinese work refers to the enemy.

The improved English translation and structure looks like this in a mind map:

The final mind map detail.

Chapter 1, Sentence 26.

The English text is as follows:

26. Now, the commander who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The commander who loses a battle makes only few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat.
What if there are no calculation at all! It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose.

The English mind map detail:

The Chinese mind map detail:

This paragraph contains both conditions and preference orders.

First two conditions are distinguished:
  1. The commander makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought
  2. He makes few calculations beforehand.

Condition (1) leads to victory, and condition (2) leads to defeat. From these two observations, Sun Tzu asks the rhetorical question that, since more calculations leads to victory and less to defeat: what would happen if you do not make any calculations at all?

As we will see in the section about the preference order pattern, Sun Tzu structures the text in such a way that the most desirable option is mentioned first, a less desirable option next, and a condition that should not happen at all, last.