In the programming world, I've often seen and used the phrase:

Create new table if not already exists.

Is this valid English wording and/or grammar?

  • 1
    I'd recommend "Create [a] new table if one does not already exist."
    – tautophile
    May 28, 2018 at 6:18
  • 2
    No, it's not grammatical. However, it's not a sentence but a fragment, so it works. Such structuring is common in the given context because of good readability, being unambiguous and simple.
    – Kris
    May 28, 2018 at 6:37
  • Btw, 'English" always starts with a capital "E".
    – Kris
    May 28, 2018 at 6:37
  • 2
    @Kris There's more wiggle-room with fragments, but this is outlandish. May 28, 2018 at 9:15
  • 1
    Funny that you would still capitalize the word "I", then. Excuses, excuses. :-P Seriously, though, there's your mnemonic right there: in English you have to show languages the same respect that you have for yourself. Also, Kris is not entirely correct. You totally can spell english with a lower-case E, it's just that it means a completely different thing: the spin you put on a ball in billiards. So simply remember that "english" is not the same as "English", just like "march" is a completely different thing from "March", and "trump" is a completely different thing from "Trump".
    – RegDwigнt
    May 28, 2018 at 9:38

1 Answer 1


The clause if not already exists is programming jargon found primarily in inline documentation or reference to it. In the interests of economy, it violates the syntax of standard English as if the words in bold if it doesn’t already exist were mere adjuncts that could be omitted. The original expression, as Laurel pointed out in a comment below, was the even more truncated IF NOT EXISTSin MySQL, language used not between people, but people and computers.

If selected and if not already exists, a document set will be created with name as specified in the value of the specified Property column for each document item.

Jargon is a subset of a standard language created and used by a discourse group engaged in an activity or profession — sports, high finance, investment banking, the military — where technical terms may be coined whose meaning may be completely opaque to those outside the group until it is promulgated by print, broadcast, or digital media. For instance, during the Financial Crisis many, unfortunately, discovered what it meant to have an underwater mortgage.

Computer jargon even has its own dictionary, the Jargon File, which as all dictionaries will have a certain prescriptive and standardizing effect, in this case including lexical and semantic features distinct from the standard language.

Who first coined a word or expression — or at least where it first appeared — is apparently part of programming lore. This would suggest a certain status accrues to those who provide the discourse group with economical or mildly amusing coinages such as kludge, which in turn suggests one reason why this particular group is so productive in inventing new words.

In programming contexts, the use of if not already exists is standard. If at home a programmer says:

Hey, I can’t find that jar of black olives for the salad. Can you run to the store if not already exists?

then I’d begin to worry.

  • 1
    The specific piece you're missing is that IF NOT EXISTS is used in SQL.
    – Laurel
    May 28, 2018 at 10:09
  • 1
    I love the black olives joke
    – nitech
    May 28, 2018 at 10:16
  • @Laurel: that makes it even more fun, since the origin lies in an expression used to talk to a machine rather than humans. I'll add that.
    – KarlG
    May 28, 2018 at 10:16

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