(1) Would you mind if I smoked here?

Is (1) a conditional (i.e., a sentence containing a conditional clause)?

Or is the if-clause complement of the verb mind?


I feel the need to make it clear that the intended context for the OP is what you normally would expect, i.e., a question coming from a smoker who'd like to smoke at the time of speaking. Somehow I feel that this type of question is not to be lumped together with a hypothetical question where the speaker does not necessarily intend to smoke at the time of speaking.

  • Man: "Do you smoke after sex?" Woman: "I don't know... I never looked."
    – Oldbag
    Commented Jan 1, 2015 at 19:29
  • 1
    Using Would you mind instead of Do you mind is more "polite, hesitant". The same applies to smoked instead of smoke, which isn't really "past tense" there (it just means "not present tense, not here-and-now", because there are only two "tenses" in English). Avoiding the present tense places more "distance" between the speaker and whatever he's talking about, which is a common feature of "deferential" statements/requests. Commented Jan 1, 2015 at 21:58
  • @FumbleFingers: If (1) is a polite/hesitant "request," why should it be considered a variant of "Do you mind...?" as opposed to that of "Will you mind...?"? In normal requests, you get a corresponding pair of "Would you...?" and "Will you...?", rather than "Would you...?" and "Do you...?".
    – JK2
    Commented Jan 1, 2015 at 22:24
  • @JK2: I must say "Will you mind if I smoke?" sounds extremely odd, if not presumptuous. Even if ordinarily I wouldn't mind, I'd be likely to either refuse permission or rant at whatever idiot asked for my indulgence in a context where it would seem he's going to smoke anyway, regardless of whether I mind or not. Commented Jan 2, 2015 at 14:08

3 Answers 3


Yes, it's interrogative and conditional, with the condition given in the "if…" clause (protasis) and potential consequence in the first clause (apodosis) and inversion ("would you" instead of "you would") to make it a question asking if this conditional is indeed the case.

To answer questions from the comments:

If it's a conditional, then how come it's not as idiomatic to say "If I smoked here, would you mind?"

"Would you mind…" makes it more immediately clear that you are starting a question, "If I smoked here, would you mind?" remains valid too though, and also interrogative and conditional, but making it clear from the beginning that one is asking a question is often an advantage.

Also, how come it's also allowed to say "Would you mind if I smoke here?"

It's normal with this sort of conditional to use the past tense. Consider if we make the statement, rather than the question; "You would mind, if I smoked". This sets up a hypothetical situation ("I smoked") and then makes a statement about that depends upon it being true ("You would mind") even though it is not true (this is the counter-factual conditional form; about things that are not true, and what would be consequent upon it if it was true).

Historically, the tense used here is in fact the past tense (simple past, as here, or past progressive) in the subjunctive mood. The subjunctive mood isn't really distinguishable from other moods in modern English for the most part, but it can be seen in the variant ("You would mind if I were to smoke") as the subjunctive uses "I were" rather than "I was". That said, many people ignore this now and so you might also find "I was" used here by some native speakers.

It makes a reasonable amount of sense, when one considers that it hypothesises one event coming before another; first "I smoked" and now "you mind".

And hence just as when it is not a question it is "you would mind if I smoked" (or "if I smoked, you would mind"), so as a question it is "would you mind if I smoked?" (or "if I smoked, you would mind?" or "would you mind if I were to smoke?"). The question hypothesises one event coming first ("I smoked") and then asked whether it would then be true that now "you mind".

All that said, you certainly will come across people using the full present-tense "would you mind if I smoke". Whether that is "correct" or not is one of those things people will disagree on.

  • If it's a conditional, then how come it's not as idiomatic to say "If I smoked here, would you mind?" Also, how come it's also allowed to say "Would you mind if I smoke here?"
    – JK2
    Commented Jan 1, 2015 at 19:33
  • @JK2, Jon, I'm with John here on this analysis. However, there are some writers such as Geoff Plullum, who have argued that if here is not a preposition, but a subordinator, and that it lacks the same function that it has in conditionals. You can read a bit about it in this dissertation here: A third if? Enjoy! Commented Jan 1, 2015 at 20:53
  • @Araucaria I think the above still carries either way from my immediate glance at that, but that definitely seems interesting, so I'm bookmarking that for later. Cheers.
    – Jon Hanna
    Commented Jan 1, 2015 at 21:29
  • @JonHanna Btw, can't remember if it's any good, but think that's where I first read about it ... Commented Jan 1, 2015 at 21:31
  • @Aracaria, thanks for the link of the dissertation. If you've read it, could you tell me if the dissertation answered my second question (why it's allowed to say "Would you mind if I smoke here?")?
    – JK2
    Commented Jan 1, 2015 at 22:03

Since everyone has their own definition of something, let's follow Huddleston and Pullum's CGEL saying that a conditional construction is:

if + protasis + apodosis

E.g., If I smoke, you will mind.

CGEL comments that you can have differing modalities, open and remote. A remote conditional construction could be, for example: If I smoked, you would mind. You can also have the apodosis fronted, as in You would mind if I smoked.

Note that modal remoteness is often used as a politeness strategy, even if the context would normally call for an open form.

Now note that the apodosis is the matrix clause, and if+protasis is its complement. So if you want to make a question out of a conditional construction, you use subject auxiliary inversion of the matrix clause: Would you mind if I smoked? You could also say If I smoked, would you mind? though this doesn't sound quite as polite (don't know why).

Also If I smoked wouldn't be a complement of mind since a complement is typically treated as something that's obligatory. But you can say, for example, I don't mind.


Actually, you could say that the [current] sentence is in the subjunctive tense, not commonly taught in English, unless you're learning a foreign language, like French, Italian, Spanish. I would suggest that correct question to pose, in this instance, would be: "Would you mind if I were to smoke here?"

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