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What is the difference between the following sentences:

We have no jobs at present, but if the situation should change, we will contact you.

We have no jobs at present, but if the situation changes, we will contact you.

We have no jobs at present, but if the situation is to change, we will contact you.

Sentences 1 and 2 I took from Murphy, where they say the first one means that the situation is less likely to change.

  • 'Less probable'? Version 2 would be the most usual and normal-sounding version here in the UK, I'm reasonably sure. Version 1 is quite acceptable; it is less colloquial. Version 3 would probably be taken to mean 'We have no jobs at present, but if the situation is about to change, we will contact you.' 'We have no positions at the present time, but were the situation to change we would contact you.' means the same as the other two versions, but would only be used by people in the Civil Service and the like. If you think that's too many versions, write to the Civil Service :-) – Edwin Ashworth Oct 4 '14 at 8:50
  • I think what they mean by "less probable" is that people tend to use the first one when the situation is unlikely to change, and the second otherwise. – Peter Shor Oct 4 '14 at 12:13
  • Yes, sir, the "probability" is for the situation to change, not the probability to meet such a grammar construct. Edited accordingly – alisianoi Oct 4 '14 at 13:21
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There's very little difference between the first two, but the first is a little more tentative, and perhaps suggests that the speaker thinks it is not very likely to change, whereas the second is more neutral. Having said that, the form with should is rather old-fashioned or literary, and many people would not say it at all.

The third form is different, and in this context incoherent. The is to construction refers to something which should, or is expected to, change. If the situation is to change, we will contact you means "We want it to change, and in order for that to happen we need to contact you". So it has a quite different meaning, that is not compatible with the first clause.

  • Whats your view of "If the situation was to change, we would contact you"? – Araucaria - Not here any more. Oct 4 '14 at 9:35
  • I would take it as the modern form of If the situation were to change (which is the form I would use myself). The same antecedent could function as the past of the is to construction above, but the tense of the consequent argues against it. It would need to be If the situation was to change, we would have had to contact you. – Colin Fine Oct 4 '14 at 15:07

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