Suppose Jeff was born on 1/1/1982. He went missing a long time ago. At the present time, he could be either dead or alive, but nobody knows for sure:

1 "If Jeff is still alive today, he is 30 years old."
2 "If Jeff is still alive today, he will be 30 years old."
3 "If Jeff is still alive today, he would be 30 years old."

Which one is standard English?

  • Me, I would say “Suppose Jeff were born on . . .”. It’s similar to “Suppose he were already married by then; what would you do in that circumstance?” – tchrist Jun 18 '12 at 19:55

The only one that is correct in the scenario you present is #1:

If Jeff is still alive today, he is 30 years old.

The is in the first clause corresponds to the is in the second.

I'd say that numbers 2 and 3 (If Jeff is still alive today, he will be 30 years old and If Jeff is still alive today, he would be 30 years old) would work in speech, but not in writing. The will be and would be give a sense of speculation, but grammatically they do not correspond to the is in the first clause.

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    This answer is wrong. You cannot use "is" in the result clause because it is a conditional statement, and the "is" contradicts the 'if'. Of the 3 choices the OP gives, "If Jeff is still alive today, he will be 30 years old." is the most correct. – Roaring Fish Jun 18 '12 at 16:10
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    @RoaringFish hm, OK interesting, but I disagree. I wouldn't balk at "If Jeff is still alive today, he will be 30 years old" in speech. But if I were to say, for example, "If that car really is 15 years old, it's running very well," you're saying that this would be incorrect, and that I should say "If that car really is 15 years old, it will be running very well"? I don't think so... – JAM Jun 18 '12 at 16:23
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    It is a different situation. In your example you can see the car running well so it is not conditional on the car being 15 years old. In the OPs sentence Jeff being 30 years old is conditional on him still being alive. – Roaring Fish Jun 18 '12 at 16:32
  • @RoaringFish I'm not so sure age is dependant on being dead or alive. I suppose it depends on how one thinks of age. Is age a relationship between "year of death" and "year of birth" or is it a relationship between "current year" and "year of birth"? For the most part, it seems humanity uses the latter. – Sephallia Jun 18 '12 at 17:40
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    This answer is wrong. Sentence #2 is correct per the OED sense 15c for “will” v.1. All you folks who think will has a terribly restrictive sense should please, please read the entire OED entry for the word: you will be surprised, and perhaps even astonished. – tchrist Jun 18 '12 at 20:08

The most common form is "If X is [true/whatever], Y is [true/whatever]".

But "If X is [true/whatever], Y will be [true/whatever]" is neither invalid, nor uncommon. You can interpret such use of "future tense" as implying that Y follows X (logically, or temporally, it makes no difference). Alternatively, see it as meaning that Y will be found to be true if/when you come to examine the matter closely.

OP's third version does occur, but it's a non-standard mixture of tenses. The "correct" version using would is "If Jeff were [to be] still alive today, he would be 30 years old". It's an example of future subjunctive, which I believe is a declining usage; non-native speakers can generally ignore it.

  • I agree will is just fine. Barrie or John would have some fancy term for this kind of thing. By the way, the “If Jeff were” thing certainly looks like past subjunctive to me, not future. Certainly if you translate it into Romance, you get a past not a future subjunctive when the other clause is in the conditional. Contrast “Si fuera así, te lo diría” (If it were so, I would tell you so; past subjunctive) vs the archaic “Aunque él me quitare la vida, en él confiaré” (from Job 13:15: Although He should take my life, in Him shall I trust.” future subjunctive). Portuguese has modern examples. – tchrist Jun 18 '12 at 19:51
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    I can't imagine why Fumblefingers calls that a "future subjunctive". – Colin Fine Jun 18 '12 at 22:40
  • The future subjunctive is were + to-infinitive. I know FumbleFingers has inserted a 'to be still alive' in there, but 'were' is already the past subjunctive form of 'to be', so it is pretty much a tautology. Like all subjunctives, it also has to be counterfactual, so Jeff would have to be positively dead to make the use of any form of subjunctive in the condition statement accurate. – Roaring Fish Jun 19 '12 at 9:44
  • @RoaringFish I strongly disagree with your assertion that were+to-infinitive somehow makes up a “future subjunctive”. It does not. This is still just a past subjunctive. PROOF: “If I were you” and “If I were to say” are exactly the same; only the complement differs, not the verb. Please make a formal study of a language that actually has a true (read: inflected) future subjunctive as distinguished from a present subjunctive or past subjunctive, such as Portuguese, and then get back to us to delete your erroneous comment. – tchrist Jun 19 '12 at 12:04
  • @tchrist,RoaringFish,Colin Fine: "We will lend you the money to buy this house, but if you were to be made redundant and thus be unable to afford the monthly repayments, we would seek a forced repossession". I don't have any problem with that. English doesn't really have much of a simple future tense, let alone a subjunctive one. But there's definitely more scope for using "were to be" rather than "were to have been" when you're talking about future states (or current/past states which will not be known until some point in the future). – FumbleFingers Jun 19 '12 at 12:48

The first two are both standard English.

The third would require were in the first clause to be brought up to standard.

  • ,,,and change the meaning. – TimLymington Jun 18 '12 at 16:30
  • Actually, I think the third is ok ... heck, I think it is the best of the three. The first just hits my ears wrong for a conditional. For the the 2nd one is wrong unless his birthday is still ahead ... If he is still alive, he will be 30 next week. The whole thing is conditional on him being alive, so for me that throws the whole phrase into a conditional and needs the 'would'. ... BTW, adding 'were' tells me that he is dead and, as Tim said, changes the meaning. – AnWulf Sep 5 '12 at 15:40

The normal expression would be "he will be 30 years old".

"If Jeff were alive today, he would be 30 years old." "As Jeff is still alive today, he is 30 years old." ( not one you would use, but shows the point )

"is" gives too much certainty, "would" is too speculative.

  • That isn’t right. You cannot have was in the if clause if you have would in the then clause. You must have were to match would. – tchrist Jun 18 '12 at 19:44
  • Edited to correct. Although most people would also say "was", as i had originally written, were is more accurate. – Schroedingers Cat Jun 19 '12 at 10:18

If Jeff were still alive today, he would be 30 years old.

is correct.

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