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More and more often I read sentences such as the following:

  • If you're not familiar with Miami's “Golden Era”, this film captures it brilliantly.
  • If you're not aware of the basics, two teams of five players spawn on corners of a map.
  • If you're not familiar with it, Pinboard is a bookmarking service that lets you save URLs.
  • If you're not aware of how to transfer funds from your Main wallet to your Australian wallet, this explains how:
  • In case you're wondering, mBio wasn't fooled.
  • In case you don't know Marco, he was one of Masahiko Kimura's first apprentices.

Are they correct? Why? If they are not, then what is wrong, and how can they be best corrected?


P.S. By "correct" I mean do they follow Standard English and English Grammar?

P.P.S. Although they're harder to find, I found more examples in the New York Times! Publication in the NYT means these sentence structures are correct, right?

  • If you’re not familiar with this little tweak, it’s simple.
  • If you’re not familiar with your provider’s policy, New York’s Department of Financial Services publishes a helpful chart.
  • In case you're wondering, the rupiah is the national currency of Indonesia.
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What would be your definition of "correct"? –  Kris Jan 9 at 11:39
    
They seem perfectly alright to me. Also 'For those of you who don't know, we are shortly moving to Chipping Sodbury'. –  WS2 Jan 9 at 12:04
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If you are reading such sentences "more and more often", that suggests that you're simply reading more and more often, in which case -- good for you! If that's not the case, then you are probably falling prey to the recency illusion. –  ruakh Jan 10 at 4:33
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@WS2 are you guys moving to Sodbory for yourself, or are you moving for people who don't know? –  William C Jan 12 at 15:30
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I'm tempted to downvote. I think this is a perfectly well established use (see ruakh's comment on recency illusion) of the comma with an introductory clause. I don't see why this is even a question. Perhaps there's more to the question that I'm not following?... I agree with a comment in wordsmythe's answer - this question needs more elaboration from the OP. –  Soylent Green Jan 13 at 21:24

10 Answers 10

up vote 0 down vote accepted
+100

The examples in the OP's post:

  • If you're not familiar with Miami's “Golden Era”, this film captures it brilliantly.
  • If you're not aware of the basics, two teams of five players spawn on corners of a map.
  • If you're not familiar with it, Pinboard is a bookmarking service that lets you save URLs.
  • If you're not aware of how to transfer funds from your Main wallet to your Australian wallet, this explains how:
  • In case you're wondering, mBio wasn't fooled.
  • In case you don't know Marco, he was one of Masahiko Kimura's first apprentices.

  • If you’re not familiar with this little tweak, it’s simple.

  • If you’re not familiar with your provider’s policy, New York’s Department of Financial Services publishes a helpful chart.
  • In case you're wondering, the rupiah is the national currency of Indonesia.

*

It seems that the above examples in the OP's post could be considered to involve speech act-related adjuncts and/or relevance protases (of conditional constructions).

.

For instance, in CGEL, in their section "18 Speech act-related adjuncts", page 773:

  • "The adjuncts considered in this section are more peripheral than any treated so far, inasmuch as they relate not to the situation or proposition expressed in the clause but to the speech act performed in uttering the clause (or to the speech act that is expected as a response). For this reason, they do not have any bearing on the truth value of the statement expressed in the residue."

and then within the subsection "Purpose, reason, concession, and condition", page 774:

  • "There are various other kinds of adjunct that can relate to the speech act as well as functioning ordinarily to give information about the situation described in the clause."

and they give the example,

  • [3.iii] Dick's coming to the party, in case you're interested.

with the explanation,

  • "Similarly in [iii] I'm telling you that Dick's coming to the party because of the possibility that you may be interested."

Notice how their example [3.iii] is very similar to the OP's example "In case you're wondering, mBio wasn't fooled."

They also give the example,

  • [3.v] If you must know, I wasn't even short-listed.

with the comment,

  • "Finally in [v] we have a conditional adjunct: "If you must know, I'll tell you that …"

Their example [3.v] appears to be somewhat similar to many of the OP's examples, except that its protasis ("if P") happens to not contain a negative.

.

In CGEL, in their section "Open conditional constructions", they have a small subsection on "Relevance protases". It seems to be related to many of your examples (except that in their two examples, the protases happen to not contain negatives--though, I don't think that should make any difference). I'll put here the whole part that deals with this topic since it is rather small and the info rather compacted. On page 740:

Relevance protases

One further special case where Q is not a consequence of P involves 'relevance protases':

[6]

  • i. [If you need some help], Helen is willing to lend a hand.

  • ii. [If you're interested], Dick's coming to the party too.

Here Q is true independently of whether P is true. Nevertheless, such examples are consistent with the invariant meaning of if, which excludes only the case where Q is false and P true. In uttering [6] I'm asserting Q, with P expressing a condition on the relevance of Q. Such examples might be regarded as a shorthand way of saying something like If you need some help [you will be interested to know that] Helen is willing to lend a hand or If you're interested [it is worth telling you that] Dick is coming to the party. There is thus some implicit predication in which the actually expressed Q is an argument.

A similar type of paraphrasing can probably be done with many of the OP's examples. For instance, for the example "If you're not familiar with Miami's 'Golden Era', this film captures it brilliantly", that could perhaps be reasonably paraphrase as: "If you're not familiar with Miami's 'Golden Era' [and are interested in that era then you might like to know that] this film captures it brilliantly".

.

Note that CGEL is the 2002 reference grammar by Huddleston and Pullum et al., The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language.

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The only source of potential confusion that I see here is that "If you didn't know..." can be used in two distinct senses;

  • as a hypothetical, where this "if" portion of the statement is an assertion and the rest of the statement is meant only in the context where that assertion is assumed to be true

and

  • as a way to state the intention of the statement

These examples seem to be cases of the second. Here the "If" part of the sentence operates similarly to "Happily" as it is sometimes used at the beginning of an utterance. My intuition is that it is not a part of the parse structure of the sentence, but instead a piece of metalanguage regarding the nature and intent of the speech-act itself.

Other common examples which I take to be of the same nature (at least pragmatically speaking -- I expect that the syntax would vary substantially at the deepest level):

Obviously, if you see something printed frequently it is likely to be grammatical in some sense.

or something even stranger, like

To be certain, the syntactic structure here is not clear or obvious.

(Note that there are not many infinitives that could comfortably take the place of "to be certain" here, which indicates to me that something strange is happening at a level that is not naively syntactic)

I think the parse here has a structure like:

Utterance : {
              meta/prefix : { some-stuff-indicating-context-or-feeling }

              content : { A-normally-structured-sentence }
            }

In conclusion, it is important to bear in mind the flexibility of language and its users.

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1  
What kind of clause is "If you're not aware of the basics"? Is it an adverbial clause? Does the clause modify the verb SPAWN? No? Then what kind is it, or what is it? –  William C Jan 10 at 10:41
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@WilliamC It is what it is, and colinro has described it very well. Do you really need to know what some linguists choose to call it? –  Pitarou Jan 10 at 14:13
    
Pitarou, can you just string together a bunch of words, and if most people understand what you mean, call the motley a sentence? No. It's a poem, probably, but not a sentence. Sentences have syntax. –  William C Jan 10 at 15:04
    
In that case I think it's fair to say that the construction you're asking about isn't really a sentence, but is some other construction which contains a sentence and an additional part. If that sounds wrong to you, as a native English speaker, then the only other conclusion is that there is some syntactic rule for sticking some specific kinds of phrases at the beginning of a sentence...and it just happens that some of those phrases are written similarly to the way we write subordinate clauses –  colinro Jan 10 at 21:44
    
@WilliamC I think Wittgenstein might disagree. If it is understood then it must have "some kind" of syntax. –  Elliott Frisch Jan 14 at 5:22

It seems to me the instruction is correct enough; it's a contraction of an if/then statement of sequential parts of one thought: if X then Y; followed by the understood, offered elaboration."If you are unfamiliar with X (then I will provide for you/direct you to an explanation/description and here it is): ..." It's a rhetorical device by which the writer/speaker offers casual intimacy and unoppressive authority.

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These appear to be standard introductory clauses to me. I've second-guessed myself a few times in trying to find other things wrong with the examples, but nothing's coming to me. Perhaps, if you're not satisfied with this or other responses, you might consider trying to better explain what you think is wrong.

EDIT: I don't mean to make this seem as clear as it may appear to native speakers. I believe this to be a related construction to beginning a sentence with an adverb in an otherwise apparently ungrammatical manner. For more on that, see Grammar Girl's article on "Hopefully." It is an idiomatic construction that is common enough to be recognized by folks like the Chicago Manual of Style, which takes its cue in this case from Webster's Dictionary and the Oxford English Distionary. The reason you're seeing it more often is that the AP upgraded the construction in 2012.

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Sure. As I stated in the bounty: If-clauses are adverbial clauses stating a condition, i.e., "P implies Q." In all these sentences, the Qs are true regardless of the Ps. (None of the examples in your link are good examples to what I'm talking about. Thank you for posting a reference!) –  William C Jan 13 at 16:48
    
Your examples are not of conditional clauses in that sense, even though they may appear as such. They are introductory clauses which establish a motive for speaking. –  wordsmythe Jan 13 at 16:51
    
Added an edit to my answer. As I say, it's not as simple an answer as I may have made it seem. –  wordsmythe Jan 13 at 17:06

I will use your first example.

There is nothing ungrammatical about the sentence; there is, however, a significant jump of logic. The writer intends to say something different than he does. Let us take the sentence in itself:

'If you're not familiar with Miami's “Golden Era”, this film captures it brilliantly.'

This sentence literally means that the film captures Miami's 'Golden Era' if, and only if, the reader is unfamiliar with it. This is at once problematic, for the film presumably captures the Era well regardless of whether or not someone selected at random has seen it.

I think that the writer intends to say either 'whether or not you are familiar with Miami's "Golden Era", you will find this film enjoyable' or 'if you are unfamiliar with Miami's "Golden Era", this film will convey it to you brilliantly'.

The example that you gave is quite common, but it sounds colloquial. Whether or not my ears enjoy the sound of it, however, the meaning is obvious enough.

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Stop worrying about "correct". You've already found evidence that very strict and well educated editorial staff considers it acceptable.

Grammar is not fixed, regardless of what people who write books or pose as experts on the internet tell you. The practical questions are: how many people will find the meaning unclear, how many people will understand the meaning but feel that it sounds funny, and how many people will have no idea why anyone would think it sounds funny.

In this case, the answers are, in order: no native English speaker, maybe a couple of people who like to act smarter than everyone else, and over 99% of native English speakers.

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I'd appreciate a comment explaining the downvote so I can learn to give answers more in line with community expectations. –  leoger Jan 17 at 20:31

There are already a lot of lengthy answers, but I think all it comes down to is deletion...

If you haven't heard of X [then let me tell you that] X is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Where everything preceding "X is the greatest..." is simply the preamble.


In practice, of course, the speaker (it's usually a spoken or informal written form) isn't going to refrain from telling you what he wants to say, even if you happen to know it already. Nor is the "truth" of his substantive statement in any way contingent on your prior knowledge. (Obviously the relevance is affected - but as I said, that's not going to deter the speaker from pressing on).

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Consider such grammar as a disclaimer by the writer, offering clarification to a wider than intended audience.

It should be clear that the writer is targeting specific readers with additional knowledge that will clarify the subject - and self credit the writer that he/she is informed about the topics being discussed. Especially when that knowledge may be obvious to some of the readership. Also, not including the "if not known" disclaimer, it could be misconstrued as being verbose prose, making the reading of it distracting/uninteresting. It is both valid and intentional grammar.

Say I'm writing about Tom Cruise, the actor. There may be a certain expectation from me, as the writer, that the readers are familiar with who Tom Cruise is. By adding a disclaimer: If you are not aware of his films, perhaps watch him in his latest movie "Oblivion", the writer is assisting a wider than intended audience, and [important!] suggesting an informed level of knowledge to back up any opinions made.

The logic goes like this. If not P, inform yourself with Q (where Q is suggestive of an informed writer). If P is familiar, you can skip Q.

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This opening "if" clause, in every example used by the o.p., seems to ellide two ideas: 1) you might not know [something], 2) you should know [something].

I agree with user61979. It is a leap in logic, that's all, which is understood and put up with by all (though I, too, dislike it)

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Nearly all the examples follow what is called the "zero conditional" pattern.

An example:

Buy two, get one free!

What does this mean? That every time you buy two products, the third one is gratis. This is a fact; a truth, a certainty, there is no strong or weak probability involved as is the case for the second and third conditionals. The only condition you have to obey in order to obtain the result: get one free, is to buy two products.

This short slogan or phrase can be preceded with any of the expressions which the OP has listed without changing its meaning

If you're not familiar with our special offer, it's buy two, get one free!
If you're not aware of our cut-price deal, it's...
If you're wondering about our special promotion, it's...
In case you don't know, our special offer is...
In case you're wondering, today's special offer is...

Those standard expressions are what @NSW nicely summed up as being:

... a rhetorical device by which the writer/speaker offers casual intimacy and unoppressive authority.

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