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I read a message from an American friend saying "If I must leave [place], [...]". What´s the difference between "If I must" and "If I had to"? Is there a subtle difference in meaning?

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The first implies that it has already been asked of oneself, while the second does not. That is my take on it, but others might see it differently. – American Luke Aug 6 '12 at 21:35
This question is asking to compare a present tense form with a subjunctive form; if the intent is to ask the difference between "must" and "have to", and not between present tense and subjunctive mood, the question should be reworded so responders can properly address what is intended to be asked. – Pantalones Aug 7 '12 at 2:03

The difference is seen in the following clause in each sentence. Take these examples:

If I must leave my employer, I shall bring the company down.
If I had to leave my employer, I would bring the company down.

The first is looking a distinct possibility, even probable; while the second is merely hypothetical and may not happen at all.

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Is the second sentence using the subjunctive mood, as in "If I were rich, I would live on Long Island"? – kiamlaluno Aug 6 '12 at 21:49
@kiamlaluno I suppose it is. But the question did not ask about "If I must"/"If I have to" (where the second is less hypothetical but not as probable as the first). – Andrew Leach Aug 6 '12 at 21:59
I know; it was just a way to introduce the OP to the subjunctive mood. ;) – kiamlaluno Aug 6 '12 at 22:00

Let me answer by example:

If I read "If I must go out in the rain, I will bring my umbrella" I would understand that the person does have to go out into the rain, and is telling me that they're about to go get their umbrella because they're about to go out in the rain.

If I read "If I had to go out in the rain, I would bring my umbrella" I would understand that the person is expressing a preference about a hypothetical situation. They don't have to go out in the rain at this time, but if they did, then they would want to get their umbrella.

In the first one, the going out in the rain has already been decided. In the second, the going out in the rain is not an immediate concern, but a situation that the person is prepared for.

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