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What syntactic function does the word "if" serves in this sentence.

Certain pesticides can become ineffective if used repeatedly in the same place.

This sentence is taken from GMAC prep material so I am assuming that the sentence is grammatically correct.

According to oxford dictionary (https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/if) the word if can only be a subordinate conjunction.However, there is no subject after if in the sentence above.

Moreover the first example sentence given by oxford dictionary for word if is

if you have a complaint, write to the director.

but there is no main clause in this sentence.

So can the word if serve some other syntactic function also?

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  • There a two 'if's - an if of doubt (what if...?) and an if of reason (if this then that). Oct 19, 2019 at 6:53
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    Traditional grammar treats conditional "if" as a subordinating conjunction introducing, in this case, a non-finite clause. Like most non-finite clauses, it is subjectless, but the subject is understood as "certain pesticides". However, more modern grammars treat conditional "if" as a preposition whose syntactic function is head of the preposition phrase that it introduces. In your last example the whole sentence is the main clause, with "write" as the 'main' verb. Whichever analysis is preferred, the conditional expression introduced by "if" functions as an adjunct, an optional element.
    – BillJ
    Oct 19, 2019 at 7:35
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    @BillJ And some of us modern linguists treat conditional if as a subordinator! (Well, my thesis argues it's one!) Oct 19, 2019 at 9:15
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    @Araucaria You are (or were) courting martyrdom. Nov 25, 2023 at 19:09
  • Doesn't that require multiple subtypes of prepositions to explain (or at least give names to) the various prepositional functions, such as "on the table" and "if used repeatedly"?
    – TimR
    Nov 25, 2023 at 19:29

1 Answer 1

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BillJ commented:

Traditional grammar treats conditional "if" as a subordinating conjunction introducing, in this case, a non-finite clause. Like most non-finite clauses, it is subjectless, but the subject is understood as "certain pesticides". However, more modern grammars treat conditional "if" as a preposition whose syntactic function is head of the preposition phrase that it introduces. In your last example the whole sentence is the main clause, with "write" as the 'main' verb. Whichever analysis is preferred, the conditional expression introduced by "if" functions as an adjunct, an optional element.

And Araucaria replied:

And some of us modern linguists treat conditional if as a subordinator! (Well, my thesis argues it's one!)

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