I have a dispute with an acquaintance over this sentence:

If [you're] looking for aliases that will be displayed in the help message, see the link above.

("you're" is omitted)

I'm pretty sure this sentence is incorrect because the conditional clause has its pronoun omitted, and I couldn't find any rule such an omission would be justified by. I believe "you're" cannot be omitted without rephrasing the sentence.

My acquaintance argued this omission is acceptable in technical documentation and often used as a sort of "shortcut". He wasn't able to provide any links to dictionaries that would support his claim, I never saw such use described as acceptable, and I am not convinced by his word alone.

Who's right?

  • 2
    This is common enough, there are thousands of references to, for instance when in doubt. That said, your sentence could be much more concise, e.g. "For aliases that will be displayed in the help message, see the link above."
    – oerkelens
    Aug 12, 2020 at 12:28
  • Yeah, but you replaced "if" with "when". The argument is very specific to "If" clauses. We both agree the sentence better be rephrased. but he argues that "if + gerund" is acceptable construction, which is what I never really saw in practice. Aug 12, 2020 at 12:34
  • Have you clicked on the link I provided? It shows an example in McMillan's dictionary: "If in doubt, get someone to help you." It doesn't matter if you use if or when. Actually, in your sentence I would prefer when anyway, if you insist on leaving the conditional clause in (for which I see little use).
    – oerkelens
    Aug 12, 2020 at 12:41
  • I have and saw the example. My point was, that specific construction, "if + -ing" doesn't form a clear connection to "if in doubt" in my mind because I'm really failing to see how gerunds and "in doubt" are similar, and that confused me. Sorry for being unclear. As for the condition, this is more of a theoretical exercise than a real case, and I think we're going to replace it anyway. Aug 12, 2020 at 12:56
  • "you're" isn't a pronoun; it's a pronoun and a verb.
    – phoog
    Aug 12, 2020 at 18:56

2 Answers 2


Language like this can be tricky to research, but a tool like English-corpora.org can show you that this is pretty common, even outside of documentation. I searched in COCA for if *ing and manually searched through the results for these examples (which you can do too!):

But Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said Tuesday that "you will find yourself disappointed" if looking to bring in all new revenue by limiting deductions. — Obama enters 'fiscal cliff' talks calling for $1.6T in tax hikes

If using a warm water bottle or battery-powered heating pad, place it beneath the cage, not in it, to avoid harming the bird, she said. — Don’t be in the dark about pets and power outages

If looking to make an impression, the bigger the better. — The Importance of Audio Visual to a Successful Event

  • Great! I think your answer is the best one here because it empowers me to conduct proper (for some definition of proper) research myself instead of having to rely on words of some strangers on the internet. I'm definitely putting it in my tool-belt. Aug 12, 2020 at 22:21

Slightly rearranged, the sentence will look like "See the above link, if [you're] looking for aliases that will be displayed in the help message". Here, the sense doesn't change, but the first part "See the ...link..." is similar to an imperative sentence (not necessarily an order). Now, an imperative sentence usually have 'You' as the subject. E.g. Come in...= You come in; See that = you see that. Thus, in your example,

If [you're]looking for aliases that will be displayed in the help message, see the link above.,

the subject (here pronoun you) is already implied. This is what I understand.

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