Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

What is the difference between the following:

What is applied mathematics? If you were to summarize it in a few words?

What is applied mathematics? If you are to summarize it in a few words?

What is applied mathematics? If you summarize it in a few words?

What is applied mathematics? [Like] If you were to summarize it in a few words?

share|improve this question
1  
The last part shouldn't be a question. It should be an imperative statement. What is applied mathematics? Summarize it in a few words. You're asking a question and then giving instructions on how to answer it properly. –  Phoenix Mar 13 '12 at 6:26
    
You need to set your question in a plausible context. Since I am a language teacher, it is highly unlikely that anyone would ask me to summarize applied mathematics. If they did, they would probably say: "If you were asked to summarize applied mathematics, what would you say?" A mathematics teacher on the other hand might be asked: "If you are asked to summarize applied mathematics in a few words, what do you say?" –  Shoe Mar 13 '12 at 7:09
    
@Shoe- Thank you, makes sense now. Are my sentences grammatically correct? –  Noah Mar 13 '12 at 7:47
1  
@Noah. The second "sentence" in each case is a dependent clause. A dependent clause cannot stand alone as a complete sentence. I suggest you reword your question to make a complex sentence in each case: Example: If you were to asked to summarize applied mathematics in a few words, what would you say? (PS. I don't see a difference between your examples 1 and 4.) –  Shoe Mar 13 '12 at 9:19
add comment

1 Answer 1

Perhaps what you're looking for is:

What is applied mathematics? Can you summarize it in a few words?

or,

What is applied mathematics? Would you summarize it in a few words?

or, in the context of an exam question:

What is applied mathematics? Summarize it in a few words.

From the small snippet you've provided, I think either can you or would you would read better than if you, if you were, or if you are.

share|improve this answer
    
Thanks. I am confused with the use of 'would' in your second example. Does it relate to a tense? Can we say 'will you'? What is the difference between the two? –  Noah Mar 13 '12 at 11:51
    
"Will you" works, too. They're roughly the same. –  J.R. Mar 13 '12 at 11:55
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.