The only ways I can think of are if and when or until such time. Both seem inelegant.


  • If and when you see Phil, tell him I said hi.
  • If or when you see Phil, tell him I said hi.


  • Until such time as you need the money, put it in your savings account.

In the last example (until such time) I want to express that it may not happen.

  • 1
    If ABC happens, then X. Should ABC happen, then X. – Yosef Baskin Jan 29 at 14:46
  • 2
    ... Yes; 'if' here pragmatically entails 'at the time when, or as soon as possible'. 'If you see Phil, would you tell him ...'. And 'Put the money in your savings account until you need it' doesn't demand that 'you' ever will, in common usage. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 29 at 16:06

Whether there is anything 'inelegant' about if and when is a matter of taste. Those who dislike it probably do so because it reminds them of the overly pedantic way of writing that is typical of legal documents. But the remedy for that is simple: if what is one is writing is not a legal document, one can simply use either if or when; one usually doesn't need both.

When logically implies if. If somebody instructs me 'When you see Phil, tell him I said "hi"' that means that I should wait until I see Phil, and then act accordingly. If I never see Phil, the occasion will not arise for telling him that. By following the instruction 'When you see Phil . . .' I will at the same time be following the possible instruction 'If you see Phil . . .'; it is thus not necessary to make the latter explicit. Of course, as a matter of pragmatics, when is likely to be used only if there is an expectation that I will actually see Phil.

If doesn't logically imply when, but, as has already been suggested in the comments, in most real-life contexts, it is likely to be treated as if it did. Suppose that somebody tells me 'If you see Phil, tell him I said "hi"'. When should I tell him you said 'hi'? The literal meaning does not say anything about the timing, but clearly I should not do that before I see him, because at that point I cannot be sure that I will see him. Moreover how would I go about telling him that before seeing him? It is also difficult to see how and why I would tell him that some time after seeing him. So obviously the only reasonable time to do it is when I see him. If thus for most ends and purposes includes when in such contexts, even though it does not logically imply it.

It is only when a great deal is at stake, and one wants to eliminate the slightest possibility that one's words will be misinterpreted, that one needs to resort to if and when, and that is typically the case in legal documents.

Of course there are plenty of other ways of saying the same thing, such as 'Your seeing Phil is a sufficient condition of your telling him I said "hi"' or 'Your seeing Phil will trigger your obligation to tell him I said "hi"' but none of them is likely to be particularly succinct or elegant.


If Y is the thing that may or may not happen, X is contingent on Y.

Contingent = dependent on or conditioned by something else

”Payment is contingent on fulfillment of certain conditions”

Merriam Webster

  • That is certainly a possible way of expressing what the OP is asking about, but it is debatable whether it is more succinct or elegant that just saying 'if Y, then X'. – jsw29 Feb 28 at 21:55
  • @jsw29 thanks for the discussion. I tried to find a complete sentence that covers the question rather than a quasi-mathematical construction. Also, the "If Y, then X" construct seems to imply "If Y, then necessarily X" and “if not Y, then necessarily not X” which is not quite what the question seeks ("may or may not..."). To say X is contingent on Y is not to say anything about the likelihood of Y, which is still something that “may or may not” happen, as specified by the question. – Anton Feb 28 at 23:07
  • Just 'for the record', in logic 'if Y, then X' does not imply either of these, although it is true that, in everyday usage, it may be misunderstood that way. – jsw29 Feb 28 at 23:13
  • I guess we have beaten all of that one into shape for the PO. Thanks. :) – Anton Feb 28 at 23:20

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