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I assume that "future conditional subjunctive" is not really a term. But that's pretty much what I'm asking about.

I often find myself addressing the scenario where (x) one thing "A" may happen in the future, and (y) if "A" happens, "B" will result. Often, this occurs while I'm arguing that "A" should not be allowed to happen.

I would like to write:

"If A happens, then B will result."

My colleague insists that, because we don't want A to happen, we must write:

"If A were to happen, then B would result." (Sometimes he will try, "were A to happen, . . . ")

I think both "were to happen" and "would result" are incorrect. And "were to happen" seems unnecessarily awkward.

Similarly, I'd write: "If you don't stop A, then B will happen." Colleague would write "If you don't stop A, then B would happen."

And, finally, when generally discussing what A would cause, I would just write "A will cause x, y and z." Colleague would write "A would cause x, y and z."

Colleague's reasoning is that because we do not want A to happen or B to result, we need to use the "subjunctive." Otherwise, if we use the indicative, we are somehow conceding that A will, in fact happen.

My thought is that we want to make an unambiguous statement that A will result in B. We don't want to introduce any doubt that A will not result in B.

And, I've read that there is no future subjunctive in English.

Is there a correct answer?

  • Conditional sentences have nothing to do with whether someone wants the condition to be fulfilled. – AmE speaker Oct 27 '17 at 21:43
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I think it has less to do with what you think should happen and what is likely to happen. For example, if you are generally planning to go to the park tomorrow, you might say:

If we go to the park tomorrow, I'll bring the dog.

However, this moves (in my head, unofficially) to the subjunctive when the propositions AREN'T the true case. If your friend, for example, claimed "We are NOT going to park tomorrow!" Then I might claim:

But if we were to go, we could bring the dog!

or something like that.

Since the case is more counter-factual, it lends itself more to the subjunctive.

  • Have a look at a grammar, then such discussions won't be necessary. – rogermue Jul 13 '15 at 15:46
  • @rogermue Agree. It is about the grammar: If x were to [verb] = If x verb in the simple past....however, people don't know that, so they "say" If x were to [verb]....It's just lack of education in how English works. – Lambie Sep 25 '16 at 20:26
  • Obviously it is about grammar. I don't know how my answer implies it isn't. And Lambie, I don't understand what you are trying to say at all. – skaz Sep 26 '16 at 9:24
  • @skaz You are discussing the issue without reference to the grammar of the sentences and only with regard to their supposed meaning. And you make a mistake when you say this moves to the subjunctive....Also, I am trying to say that: But if were to go, we could bring the dog = But if we went, we could bring the dog. Except I would say TAKE the dog and not bring the dog..:) – Lambie Sep 28 '16 at 12:49
  • The grammar of the sentence is dependent upon the meaning...If you want to express a certain meaning you use a certain grammar. You are right, your two cases are the same. I am drawing a distinction to a non counterfactual, "If we go..." – skaz Sep 29 '16 at 8:31
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OP said: I would like to write: "If A happens, then B will result."

My thoughts: Perfectly correct grammatically, of course - and clearly conveys the certainty of (undesirable) B occurring as a result of A.

OP said: My colleague insists that, because we don't want A to happen, we must write: "If A were to happen, then B would result."

My thoughts:
-- "were to happen" is perhaps more 'literary'- and erudite-sounding than the simple past "happened" ... but other than whatever value that quality brings, it is (as noted by others) grammatically functionally interchangeable therewith

-- ...and, because a simple past condition always requires the present conditional in the main clause, OP's colleague's "would" is grammatically correct;

-- HOWEVER, OP is absolutely correct that it introduces a sense of mere possibility / probability of outcome B, rather than the certainty that both OP & OP's colleague are wanting to convey. Colleague has it exactly backwards.

OP said: (Sometimes he will try, "were A to happen, . . . ")

My thoughts:
Also grammatically acceptable (it's just an inversion of "If A were to happen" with the "If" dropped, which is permissible), but unnecessarily lofty for most everyday purposes IMO.

OP said:

Similarly, I'd write: "If you don't stop A, then B will happen."

Colleague would write "If you don't stop A, then B would happen."

My thoughts: You are right. Colleague is wrong. As you obviously know and he does not, the simple present conditional always takes the simple future, not the present conditional. I've never even seen this particular error; just bizarre.

OP said: And, finally, when generally discussing what A would cause, I would just write "A will cause x, y and z." Colleague would write "A would cause x, y and z."

My thoughts: Funnily enough you yourself introduce this one by using the "would" that your colleague prefers:) Can you not simply say "A would cause x, y, and z, which is an undesirable outcome"?

OP said: Colleague's reasoning is that because we do not want A to happen or B to result, we need to use the "subjunctive."

My thoughts: Nonsense. The subjunctive does not and cannot serve that purpose. It conveys ONLY uncertainty, not desirability or undesirability of the outcome. He is being a pretentious prig, and wrong to boot. Great combo!

OP said: ...Otherwise, if we use the indicative, we are somehow conceding that A will, in fact happen.

My thoughts: More nonsense. Does he not know what "conditional" (the conditionality of the "if" clause) means?

http://www.ef.edu/english-resources/english-grammar/conditional/

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So, the correct language is:

"If the A is not stopped, the B will happen."

Is it ever correct to write "Were the A to happen . . . "? (Addressing a contingency in the future.)

  • The sentence you wrote has NOTHING TO DO WITH WHETHER THE SPEAKER WANTS THE CONDITION TO BE FULFILLED. And if you're asking a question, please edit your original question. – AmE speaker Oct 27 '17 at 21:48
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There are two things happening here: "If A were to happen, then B would result." (Sometimes he will try, "were A to happen, . . . ")

FIRST scenario: If you go, I will join you. [regular if idea] Grammar: Present tense in IF clause, future tense in second clause.

SECOND scenario: If you went, I would join you. [less of a probability; more unsure, aka "condition contrary to fact"] Grammar: simple past in IF clause, conditional in second clause.

The kicker: The simple past in the IF clause [if you went, if you spoke, if you sang, if you walked] for the verb happen is: If A happened, B would result.

Semantically: /If A were TO happen/ is the same thing as //IF A happened//. And that is the grammar your colleagues did not know.

NOTE: People are increasingly using what you point out: If you don't stop A, then B would happen.

But they really MEAN: If you didn't stop A, then B would happen. VERSUS If you don't Stop A, B will happen. [that is the standard grammar]

It's all about using the SIMPLE past after IF, plus would in the second clause.

But people tend to SUBSTITUTE: If A "were to" [verb] for simple past in the first clause or they use WOULD incorrectly in the second, where the future would be fine.

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