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Possible Duplicate:
Future tense in conditional clauses

Which one is correct?

option 1: If I go there, I can meet her


option 2: If I will go there, I can meet her

I clearly remember, was told by English (not American) teacher that "If", "When" cannot be used with "will" in the above context. Though, I have seen few people in US saying like option 2

I do know that "If I would go there, I could meet her" is correct (or at least, think so).

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marked as duplicate by aedia λ, FumbleFingers, Marthaª, kiamlaluno, Mitch Mar 18 '12 at 22:05

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

Please consider accepting John Lawler's answer rather than mine. – cornbread ninja 麵包忍者 Nov 13 '13 at 15:57
up vote 14 down vote accepted

This topic seems to come up with some frequency here. Your teacher was overgeneralizing, I'm afraid.

It's not wrong to use will this way; it's just that it may not mean what you want it to mean. In the case you mention, it means that you are commenting on the possibility that you may be willing to go there, which sounds at least odd, and seems very unlikely to be what you intend to mean.

Briefly, will is not "the future tense"; will is a modal auxiliary verb. That means it's got complicated meanings.

All modal auxiliaries like will or must have two kinds of meaning -- one logical (called "epistemic") meaning having to do with truth and probability, like

  • He must be the person they mentioned.

and one social (called "deontic") meaning having to do with obligation and permission, like

  • He must be home by midnight.

The reason why will is often called 'the future tense' in English classes is because it normally only uses its epistemic sense of "sposta", and that's close enough. But will also has a deontic sense of "wanna" that shows up in phrases like be willing to, will power, with a will, with the best will in the world, leave a will, etc.

What happens when you use will in a hypothetical clause is that such clauses only allow the deontic sense of will, so you wind up talking not about what's sposta happen, but about who wants to do what.

So it's perfectly OK to say

  • If you will hand in your homework, I will grade it.
  • Whether he will attend the concert is unknown.
  • I'm not certain when he will sign it.

if you mean

  • If you are willing to hand in your homework, I am willing to grade it.
  • Whether he is willing to attend the concert is unknown.
  • I'm not certain when he's going to get around to signing it.

But only for the deontic wanna sense, not for the usual epistemic sposta sense, of will.

Edit: I forgot to point out that this is a peculiarity of the interaction of two modals - the hypothetical clause construction and the modal auxiliary will. This is like having two strong magnetic fields together; their interactions can become, um, peculiar.

In this case some logicians might say that the deontic interpretation of will in hypotheticals is forced pragmatically because the sposta happen epistemic sense is already covered by the hypothetical construction, so using it again must mean the deontic sense. Maybe so; I'm not sure, personally.

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For the example "If you will hand in your homework, I will grade it" you ascribe a deontic sense to each will. Isn't the second will epistemic? – jwpat7 Mar 15 '12 at 17:28
John, your explanation is helpful (+1), but, I bet, even for native speakers is too scientific – Igor Turman Mar 15 '12 at 17:35
+1 particularly for "If you will hand in your homework, I will grade it." That one seems natural to me as a native speaker, but I'm always noticing slightly different variations used by non-native speakers that don't work for me. Particularly, Europeans influenced by the fact that verb inflections in their languages work differently in respect of subjunctive, conditional clauses, etc. – FumbleFingers Mar 15 '12 at 17:43
Especially for native speakers. – John Lawler Mar 15 '12 at 17:47
Just to confuse things further, there is also a dynamic sense: If you will keep asking stupid questions you'd better expect some stupid answers. – StoneyB Apr 2 '14 at 11:06

"If I will go there" (or any other "if/when ... will ") is not normal in any variety of English AFAIK.

"If I would go there" appears to be common in colloquial American English, but is not in my (British) idiolect.

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As far as I know, there's something called an ellipted conditional clause as in:

If you think the weather will be fine, we'll go for a walk.

If (you think) the weather will be fine, we'll go for a walk.

If the weather will be fine, we'll go for a walk.

I doubt that can be applied to your example, as it is quite self-explanatory in this regard, but there's some general possibility. However, I don't know exactly whether this construction is widely accepted or considered non-standard.

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Cite a reference? – jwpat7 Mar 15 '12 at 17:31
That's something I got from my grammar teacher. – MasterHeartache Mar 15 '12 at 17:37

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