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  1. #1
    Hucky is offline Member
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    Default What happens if ...?

    Hi,

    I have just heard in the news the presenter ask this way:

    What happens if they get involved ...?

    The question is a structure consisting of a main clause and a conditional clause. As the rule for such constructions prescribes a future tense in the main clause, the above question baffled me. Am I being to strict with grammar? What are your sentiments on this?

    Hucky

  2. #2
    probus's Avatar
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    Default Re: What happens if ...?

    I agree with you that strictly speaking grammar requires "What will happen if ..." or "What would happen if ...".

    But "What happens if ..." has become so very common that it must now be considered standard usage in my opinion.

    A google search for "what happens if" produces 33.9 million hits.
    Last edited by probus; 10-Mar-2011 at 01:21.

  3. #3
    Hucky is offline Member
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    Default Re: What happens if ...?

    Dear probus,

    There seems to be some truth in what you write. Nevertheless, Iīd be curious to learn which form you would personally prefer, quite apart from the millions upon millions in favour of the version I enquired about. Do you mean to say that the version in question in wrong, but since it is widely accepted, since it canīt be helped, it has to be tolerated? And what is more, do you refer your point of view just to that very specific formulation of "What happens if ..." as people have got used to it, or also in general to all such analogous structures allowing the present tense in the main clause?

    If you find the time to reply, Iīll be / I am very glad.
    (Whatever your answer, it wonīt change my gladness.)

    Hucky

  4. #4
    Hucky is offline Member
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    Default Re: What happens if ...?

    Dear Allornothing,

    Indeed, there is no getting round grammar rules. Thanks!

    Hucky

  5. #5
    5jj's Avatar
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    Default Re: What happens if ...?

    Quote Originally Posted by probus View Post
    A google search for "what happens if" produces 33.9 million hits.
    Don't use google to justify any claims about language. I have just googled 'ain't', and got eighty million hits. Other search engines gave between thirty and over two hundred million hits. There are millions of ain'ts floating around, but that does not mean that the word is acceptable in normal written English, or even, normally, in speech between reasonably educated speakers.

    The corpora are better guides, though it is dangerous to use just the raw figures even with these. As a matter of interest, COCA gives 232 examples of 'what will happen if' and 952 for 'what happens if'. Some of the latter were like this:

    What happens if you become dissatisfied with your registrar's service and want to switch providers?

    In this example, one could argue that the writer was asking about a general situation rather than a future one, so will would not be appropriate. However most of the first fifty or so examples that I looked quickly through clearly referred to future times.

    The results surprised me. At the moment I can think of nothing useful to add to the discussion.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: What happens if ...?

    But we use present for future all the time. Why should this be different?

    Hurry up - the play starts in an hour.
    We'll be there in plenty of time. Her plane lands at 8.
    I'm not a teacher, but I write for a living. Please don't ask me about 2nd conditionals, but I'm a safe bet for what reads well in (American) English.

  7. #7
    5jj's Avatar
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    Default Re: What happens if ...?

    Quote Originally Posted by Barb_D View Post
    But we use present for future all the time. Why should this be different?
    I would have agreed with you before I saw the COCA figures. There are four times as many uses of the present simple for future time in this construction as of will. That's what surprises me.

  8. #8
    Hucky is offline Member
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    Default Re: What happens if ...?

    Dear Barb D,

    Even if the usage of the present simple referring to the future should outnumber the will-future, this cannot be considered a relevant argument within the current debate (temporal/conditional clauses linked with main clauses - first conditional). The present simple is the proper tense for future actions according to timetable, which applies to both the example sentences you have quoted.

    Slumber time starts soon (with reference to the future).
    Good night!

    Hucky

  9. #9
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    Default Re: What happens if ...?

    Dear 5jj:

    I take your point. I won't use google results as an argument in future.

    Dear Hucky:

    I repeat that I fully agree with your view of the grammar on this point. It has to be "What will happen if ...". But regrettably it no longer is, usually.

    As you put it, "since it canīt be helped, it has to be tolerated." That is precisely what I meant. There are many common usages that cause me to grind my teeth, but there is nothing I or anyone can do about them.

  10. #10
    5jj's Avatar
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    Default Re: What happens if ...?

    Quote Originally Posted by probus View Post
    It has to be "What will happen if ...". But regrettably it no longer is, usually.
    It's not really a question of 'it has to be'. If common usage is 'what will happen if', then that is what it can be.

    There are at least five ways in English in expressing the futurity of these and one of these, as Barb pointed out, is the present simple.. There is no reason at all why it should not be used in temporal and condition clauses. My only surprise was at the discovery that it appears to be used much more frequently than will, at least with 'happen'

    I then tried COCA on 'what will you do if' -28, and 'what do you do if' -115. While many of the latter examples were questions about general activities, some clearly referred to the future.

    It seems that the present simple is used for future situations in temporal and conditional clauses rather more than I had assumed.

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