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An ESL student of mine wrote:

If they don't act quickly, it's possible that new diseases appear.

I could mark it as 'off style' on the grounds that [will] is the usual tense for said verb but I would like a deeper explanation -both for my student and myself- so I started wondering about the grammaticality of the whole construction.

Here's what I have so far: if [appear] has either present indicative or subjunctive features, it's at least ambiguous. The if-clause, however, seems to me to preclude the simple present (present indicative), which expresses habituality or fact, and require a 'dynamic' form instead, which is accomplished by [will]. But what if it's subjunctive? Would it be ungrammatical, and why? If grammatical, would there be a difference in meaning with respect to [will appear]?

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    No. That usage is no longer colloquial, and in any situation involving public health non-colloquial language could cause confusion and should be avoided. – John Lawler Mar 4 '20 at 22:57
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    "could" would be a better fit that "will" since the whole thing is uncertain. – Matthew Smith Mar 5 '20 at 0:00
  • I'm not so sure about this statement of yours: "The if-clause, however, seems to me to preclude the simple present (present indicative), which expresses habituality or fact, and require a 'dynamic' form instead, which is accomplished by [will]." For example, you can say If we don't stop this new disease, we all die as well as If we don't stop this new disease, we will all die. – JK2 Mar 5 '20 at 2:53
  • @JohnLawler that is what I meant by "off style". But would you say it is ungrammatical? What would its interpretation have been back when it was colloquial? – Mau Mar 5 '20 at 3:10
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    @Mau And here's an attested example albeit rare: If he tests well, it's possible that he leapfrogs himself into round one conversation. 247sports.com/nfl/chicago-bears/ContentGallery/… – JK2 Mar 5 '20 at 4:20
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I'm no expert, but isn't it just because the sentence requires the Simple Future tense of 'Appear'. [Will|would|could|might] appear (in the future).

  • Can you consider it with a singular subject? "If they don't act quickly, it's possible that a new disease VERB" [appears] I think is blocked by its subordinate status (relative to [possible]) and its conjuction to [if they don't act] [appear] sounds off-style, non-colloquial, maybe archaic or pompous but I can't say it's ungrammatical. What do you think? – Mau Mar 5 '20 at 3:53

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