“If we were to agree” vs “If we are to agree”

In an undecided situation that needs to be discussed, which one of the following seems more accurate? Are they interchangeable?

• If we were to agree on this deal, do you think we can start working on it next month?

• If we are to agree on this deal, do you think we can start working on it next month?

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I suspect the answer is "Neither of them". There are three possible clauses in this situation, and they have subtly different meanings.

If we were to agree, do you think we could start next month? is a remote hypothetical ('I know it's unlikely, but just suppose').

If we are to agree... would normally preface some sort of demand, like ...you will have to start by raising the price. Technically, it's imposing a condition that must be fulfilled before any agreement can be considered. (This condition might, of course, be that 'you agree to start next month', in which case your second example would be correct; but even then it isn't the best way to express it.)

The normal wording in your sentence is just If we agree on this deal, can we start next month?

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What if the chance is 50% or less than that? – user17857 Jan 29 '12 at 3:20
It's not about the actual probability, it's about the speaker's attitude towards the probability. "If we were to agree" emphasizes the speaker's uncertainty. "If we agree" considers the possibility without judgment. – Karl Knechtel Jan 29 '12 at 13:34

If we were to agree on this deal, do you think we can start working on it next month?

This means that if you agree on the deal you will be able to start working next month. Agreeing on the deal does not depend on you starting work next month.

If we are to agree on this deal, do you think we can start working on it next month?

This means that making the deal depends on if you can start working on it next month.

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The first question does not mean that. It is a question, not a statement. The same applies to the second question. Making the deal in either situation does not depend on if the person can start next month. As TimLymington explains, the questions do not make logical sense. – Matt E. Эллен Jan 29 '12 at 14:02

protected by tchristApr 1 '13 at 0:42

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