1. ## Problematic conditional

If I were to tell you everything, you would be amazed.

In such sentences the action in the conditional clause is presented as possible, but very unlikely. In our land such clauses are called clauses of problematic condition.

I have always supposed that were + to + infinitive is used in the 2nd condicional clause only. Anyway, I supposed this constraction to reflect an unreal sitiation.

But recentlyI have noticed in a textbook:
If I were to see him, I'll tell you.

Here we can observe this construction in combination with real consequence, though a 2nd conditional can form a split conditional only with a 3rd conditional clause. Unreal condition does not go with a real action in future.

I was told that a will + infinitive construction can follow a problematic conditional clause. As if it has something to do
with real condition. Little, but nevertheless it has.

So, the question is whether such construction is correct or not?
And maybe we can formulate the question in other words: can were+to+infinitive be used in the 1st conditional?

Michael

2. ## Re: Problematic conditional

Hello Grablevskij,

1. If I were to see him, I'll tell you.

Almost every kind of "mixed" conditional can be heard in spoken English, and found in informal written English (e.g. in emails, or on websites). So although it sounds incongruous to me, it wouldn't surprise me to encounter it. I would interpret it as a (probably unconscious) change of attitude on the speaker's part, between clauses.

In edited English (newspapers, books, etc.), on the other hand, it would probably be amended by an editor; moreover, the originator would probably accept the amendment quite happily, if you suggested it to him.

In an exam, a student would probably be wise to change it to the blameless "If I see him".

Best wishes,

MrP

3. ## Re: Problematic conditional

Originally Posted by MrPedantic
Hello Grablevskij,

1. If I were to see him, I'll tell you.

Almost every kind of "mixed" conditional can be heard in spoken English, and found in informal written English (e.g. in emails, or on websites). So although it sounds incongruous to me, it wouldn't surprise me to encounter it. I would interpret it as a (probably unconscious) change of attitude on the speaker's part, between clauses.

In edited English (newspapers, books, etc.), on the other hand, it would probably be amended by an editor; moreover, the originator would probably accept the amendment quite happily, if you suggested it to him.

In an exam, a student would probably be wise to change it to the blameless "If I see him".

Best wishes,

MrP
Hello Mr P.

Might I suggest, I could be mistaken, of course, that you're being overly, how can I phrase this, strict, on your interpretation. First, I doubt that such a collocation would really ever be found in newspapers and other edited English.

It is, truly, something that is of the realm of speech, don't you think? For a book, say, a novel, it's my opinion, humble as it is, that an editor would be remiss in their job to change such a structure because it wouldn't reflect what the writer wanted to say.

"If I were to see him" only states that there is a greater doubt that I'll see him. For example, "he" will be at the party, but since I'm not going to the party, there is a much smaller, though not out of the question chance that I'll see "him".

I'm going to the party, ----> "If I see him, ...".

Mixed conditionals are used, IMHO, because speech is much more nuanced than writing. We, being party to the contextual elements, can easily sort these things out.

But the traditional rules with their Conditionals 1, 2 and 3 just do not adequately describe for ESLs how language works. They are much too "frozen" to allow for the nuances that we need and that more importantly, actually exist in language.

Less doubt/greater reality ----More doubt/less reality ---------------Unreal

If I see him -------------------------------------------If I saw/were to ...

The conditionals, don't, to my mind, exist in a clump, isolated from each other. It's a scale that can have as many nuances as there are situations in life and we all know that those number in the "infinites".

Sometimes we reach that tipping point where we could/can lean more into irrealis or more into reality. And then, our choice of structure, past tense FORM/subjunctive or present tense FORM is reflected in that.

Cheers,

rk

4. ## Re: Problematic conditional

Hello RK,

First, I doubt that such a collocation would really ever be found in newspapers and other edited English.
True enough. It may well be that other examples with the structure:

1. If X were to happen, Y will happen.

would be more likely to occur.

an editor would be remiss in their job to change such a structure because it wouldn't reflect what the writer wanted to say.
Certainly it would be prudent for the editor to ask the writer to confirm any such changes.

Best wishes,

MrP

5. ## Re: Problematic conditional

Originally Posted by MrPedantic

True enough. It may well be that other examples with the structure:

1. If X were to happen, Y will happen.

would be more likely to occur.
MrP
What examples?

I don't remember the linguistic term for a sitiation when a person is distracted from the subject and make a grammatical mistake. He is bewildered and can not follow his idea clearly. I would say it is our situation. That is, maybe I would be able to explain the construction, but it does not mean that this construction is grammatically correct.

Michael

6. ## Re: Problematic conditional

Originally Posted by Grablevskij
What examples?

I don't remember the linguistic term for a sitiation when a person is distracted from the subject and make a grammatical mistake. He is bewildered and can not follow his idea clearly. I would say it is our situation. That is, maybe I would be able to explain the construction, but it does not mean that this construction is grammatically correct.

Michael
Michael,

People use grammar to say what they want to say in language. And there's no reason that people cannot change their minds mid-sentence. It happens a great deal in life and therefore, in language.

If I were to see him, [thinking] I won't tell you.

Now I'm not saying that these are the more common collocation, obviously they are not, but they can and do happen.

7. ## Re: Problematic conditional

Originally Posted by Grablevskij

I don't remember the linguistic term for a sitiation when a person is distracted from the subject and make a grammatical mistake. He is bewildered and can not follow his idea clearly. I would say it is our situation. That is, maybe I would be able to explain the construction, but it does not mean that this construction is grammatically correct.

Michael
I would agree that in spoken or informal (e.g. chatroom or sports commentator's) English, the construction might occur in a situation where the speaker was a little confused; or in a situation where the speaker decided to change his mind, as in RK's example; or where a situation was changing.

In written English of the kind you find in magazines, etc., however, such constructions are less likely to occur: you would tend to find the usual conditional "types", where the clauses are consistent.

My suspicion is that native speakers would be more likely to notice a construction such as the one you quote in written than in spoken or informal English  and probably more likely to notice it in the utterances of a non-native speaker.

(For my part, when I learn a language, I'm quite happy to learn the "correct" versions of e.g. conditional statements, on the grounds that that will equip me for most occasions, and my utterances will not be considered incorrect; though I know that native speakers are unlikely to follow the textbooks themselves.)

Best wishes,

MrP

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