Possible Duplicate:
Future tense in conditional clauses

Which one is correct?

option 1: If I go there, I can meet her


option 2: If I will go there, I can meet her

I clearly remember, was told by English (not American) teacher that "If", "When" cannot be used with "will" in the above context. Though, I have seen few people in US saying like option 2

I do know that "If I would go there, I could meet her" is correct (or at least, think so).


3 Answers 3


This topic seems to come up with some frequency here.
Your teacher was overgeneralizing, I'm afraid.

It's not wrong to use will this way; it's just that it may not mean what you want it to mean. In the case you mention, it means that you are commenting on the possibility that you may be willing to go there, which sounds at least odd, and seems very unlikely to be what you intend to mean.

Briefly, will is not "the future tense"; will is a modal auxiliary verb. That means it's got complicated meanings.

All modal auxiliaries like will or must have two kinds of meaning -- one logical (called "epistemic") meaning having to do with truth and probability, like

  • He must be the person they mentioned.

and one social (called "deontic") meaning having to do with obligation and permission, like

  • He must be home by midnight.

The reason why will is often called 'the future tense' in English classes is because it normally only uses its epistemic sense of "sposta", and that's close enough. But will also has a deontic sense of "wanna" that shows up in phrases like be willing to, will power, with a will, with the best will in the world, leave a will, etc.

What happens when you use will in a hypothetical clause is that such clauses only allow the deontic sense of will, so you wind up talking not about what's sposta happen, but about who wants to do what.

So it's perfectly OK to say

  • If you will hand in your homework, I will grade it.
  • Whether he will attend the concert is unknown.
  • I'm not certain when he will sign it.

if you mean

  • If you are willing to hand in your homework, I am willing to grade it.
  • Whether he is willing to attend the concert is unknown.
  • I'm not certain when he's going to get around to signing it.

But only for the deontic wanna sense, not for the usual epistemic sposta sense, of will.

Edit: I forgot to point out that this is a peculiarity of the interaction of two modals - the hypothetical clause construction and the modal auxiliary will. This is like having two strong magnetic fields together; their interactions can become, um, peculiar.

In this case some logicians might say that the deontic interpretation of will in hypotheticals is forced pragmatically because the sposta happen epistemic sense is already covered by the hypothetical construction, so using it again must mean the deontic sense. Maybe so; I'm not sure, personally.

  • 1
    John, your explanation is helpful (+1), but, I bet, even for native speakers is too scientific Commented Mar 15, 2012 at 17:35
  • 1
    +1 particularly for "If you will hand in your homework, I will grade it." That one seems natural to me as a native speaker, but I'm always noticing slightly different variations used by non-native speakers that don't work for me. Particularly, Europeans influenced by the fact that verb inflections in their languages work differently in respect of subjunctive, conditional clauses, etc. Commented Mar 15, 2012 at 17:43
  • 3
    Especially for native speakers. Commented Mar 15, 2012 at 17:47
  • 4
    Just to confuse things further, there is also a dynamic sense: If you will keep asking stupid questions you'd better expect some stupid answers. Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 11:06
  • 1
    Sorry, folks, but "If you will keep asking stupid questions, you'd etc." even by hoi polloi speech habits (which are fine, I don't hold their feet to the fire, only yours), is not exactly standard phrasing. And the homework thing works only in contexts where both clauses take will (that's the trick there) and requires a prior "situation". One does not say it ex nihllo.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jun 4, 2019 at 2:48

"If I will go there" (or any other "if/when ... will ") is not normal in any variety of English AFAIK.

"If I would go there" appears to be common in colloquial American English, but is not in my (British) idiolect.

  • [doorbell: ring, ring] "Ah, that will be John now." Yes, right? Now, as regards conditionals, I'm with you.And though some (emphasis on some) AmE speakers say "If I would go there", I surely do not. In fact, if you listen to some speakers (even a British journalist interviewing Kushner said just today: Do you wish you didn't do x for hadn't done x), who consistently replace would with simple past, you realize they are screwing up the idea of past possibility.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jun 4, 2019 at 2:44
  • "That will be John now" is the modal will in its epistemic meaning, as opposed to its more usual deontic one. A lot of people seem to have difficulty with irrealis conditionals - it is an area where English is in flux.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Jun 4, 2019 at 9:31
  • Yes, absolutely but "Do you wish you didn't do it?" messes with my humours, especially from those who are the media "elite", as it were.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jun 4, 2019 at 13:51
  • @ColinFine, re: your reply to Lambie, what did you mean by "as opposed to its more usual deontic one"? As per my knowledge, the usual sense of will, as in "I will go to the hospital today.", is the epistemic (logical necessity/probability) one, not the deontic (social obligation/permission) one. Commented Jan 5, 2020 at 19:05
  • @MrReality: The will in That will be John now has the force of "I conclude that": a typical epistemic meaning for a modal: it is about the state of the speaker's knowledge. You have chosen a first person will, so it easy to confuse that with an epistemic use, but He will go is not epistemic. I think also that "social obligation/permission" is too narrow for "deontic": that would exclude the non-epistemic sense of "can" for example.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Jan 5, 2020 at 20:29

As far as I know, there's something called an ellipted conditional clause as in:

If you think the weather will be fine, we'll go for a walk.

If (you think) the weather will be fine, we'll go for a walk.

If the weather will be fine, we'll go for a walk.

I doubt that can be applied to your example, as it is quite self-explanatory in this regard, but there's some general possibility. However, I don't know exactly whether this construction is widely accepted or considered non-standard.


Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.