First, I'd like to apologize for the awkwardly-phrased title.

Instead of trying to explain the structure I'm thinking of, I'd like to give some context and then an example or two. I've used and seen this construction used conversationally, and if my memory and intuition serve, conversationally only. I'm curious to know if there is a formal term for it.

Ex 1

"If you don't like what I'm offering, the door is that way."

A purely logical interpretation would make little sense with this example. In this context, the inference is that the speaker is indicating to whomever he is speaking that they should leave, which suggests that there might be an elision, e.g.

"If you don't like what I'm offering, ... [then you may leave. T]...he door is that way."

Ex 2

"If you're hungry, I have food."

This is a similar context. The implication is that the speaker will offer food to whom she is speaking if they are hungry. A (strictly) logical interpretation would, again, make little sense (if you are hungry, then I have food doesn't convey any intent to provide it, nor does it make sense; the speaker always has food, she just will offer it if her guest is hungry).

I recognize that this might be too specific to have a term associated with it. I'm just curious to know what it is if it does exist.

  • 2
    Good spot. We use these things so unconsciously that seeing the strangeness involved is usually overlooked. I believe that the sentence fragment interpretation for the dependent clause (the if-clause) is correct. In fact, it may be used alone ('If you don't like your job here ...' especially, of course, in the well-known examples 'If you can't stand the heat ...' and 'If the cap fits, ...'). The deleted main clause may not be too obvious (If you're hungry, help is at hand'!?), but the intention will be clear enough. Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 19:41

2 Answers 2


This type of if is known by a few names: relevance conditionals1, pragmatic conditionals2, and, if you're hungry, biscuit conditionals3.

It includes sentences where if comes after:

I have food, if you're hungry.

Also, mandatory XKCD:


Both examples use ellipsis, sort of:

The omission of a word or phrase necessary for a complete syntactical construction but not necessary for understanding. - American Heritage Dictionary, 5th Ed.

Wouldn't you say the examples are illogical if taken only at face value, but logical in practical terms? "If you don't like my offer, the door is indeed that way (and I leave it you to see what is the connection once you are on the other side of that door)." That's dry humor.

The food example is more disconnected. After all, if you're hungry I have food. Yet if you're not hungry I do not have food? Here's what's missing: you should know. "If you're hungry you should know I have food."

TV and radio are forever saying "If you're going out today, snow is heavy!" Too literally, that means that snow is heavy only if I am not going out, not if I am staying in. Ridiculous. I had no idea I was that powerful. But really, it means, "If you're going out (you should know:) snow is heavy."

  • 1
    But OP has suggested that deletion may be involved. An answer needs to supply evidence (eg from an accepted authority on grammar). And the term 'ellipsis' has been addressed on ELU before. Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 19:52
  • I agree that they are only illogical taken at face value, which is how I'm trying to distinguish them from regular if-then statements. I agree that this may be an elision, but I'm looking for something slightly more specific, if possible.
    – cole
    Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 19:59
  • No argument that a citation makes an answer more authoritative than authoritarian. Still, a thorough analysis of the requestor's need for understanding in everyday terms carries almost as much weight in pure transfer of knowledge and insight than a canned reference. After all, as a teen I thought gender was a new and naughty word because I found it under a listing for sex. But it's not. Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 20:05
  • Elision is combining, ellipsis is skipping. Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 20:06
  • I put 'I believe that the sentence fragment interpretation for the dependent clause (the if-clause) is correct.' in a 'comment' because I could not find a recognised authority to support my opinion. As @tchrist has said, 'We are looking for more substantial answers with documented references, not merely [statements that may possibly be no more than] personal opinion. Those are just comments, not answers.' / There is an article on 'elide' here. Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 20:47

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