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I regularly find myself confused by phrases of the form "x if y". For example, in the 2010-10-22 issue of his newsletter, Paul Thurrott writes:

Well, if you're Wall Street Journal technology maven and Apple lover Walter Mossberg, you simply write an unfair review that ignores the product's best features and harps on obvious if little-needed functional miscues such as the lack of copy and paste.

Here's another example, from a TV guide article:

Best known in the U.S. for formulaic, if handsome, genre films like Mimic (1997) and Blade II (2002), del Toro

The usage of 'if' in these examples confuses me. What is the intended meaning of these sentences? Can I just substitute "if" with "though"?

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Yes you can for those examples. –  Anonymous Type Nov 11 '10 at 3:17
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up vote 6 down vote accepted

Ah awesome word! It fits under defintion 3 at dictionary.com (the World English Dictionary part) and definition 4 at Merriam. I like Merriam's better:

: even though : although perhaps; an interesting if untenable argument

I think it can be used both as a way to make a good quality not as strong, or show some saving grace of a good quality. an interesting if untenable argument says that although the argument is interesting, it is untenable. On the other hand, from your TV guide article, formulaic if handsome genre films says that the films are formulaic, but at least they're handsome.

I just connected this to a Russian word, зато, which I think can only be used to make bad situations better. тупая зато красивая = stupid but pretty.

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The thought to look the word up in a dictionary crossed my mind numerous times, but I was convinced that would be as fruitless as all of the searching on the web I had done. I'm an idiot. –  Polshgiant Oct 23 '10 at 4:09
    
The Russian equivalent for this if is хотя и, actually. Зато, as you say yourself, is more of a but (for it, in return, in exchange; German dafür). It doesn't make bad situations better, it just puts emphasis on the subsequent word rather than the preceding one. That is, it works exactly the other way round than the if. "Stupid but pretty" = "pretty, even though stupid" = "pretty if stupid". Similarly, "pretty but stupid" = "stupid if pretty". Same for Russian, тупая, зато красивая = красивая, хотя и тупая, and красивая, зато тупая = тупая, хотя и красивая. –  RegDwigнt Oct 23 '10 at 7:56
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