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The meaning of "even if"

Discussion in 'English Only' started by casino, Feb 15, 2008.

  1. casino Senior Member

    Japan
    A British linguist says that sentence (1) is not acceptable because if I did not ask him, he could not answer.

    (1) Even if I were to ask him, he would answer vaguely.

    A few informants I asked told me that (1) is acceptable.
    I am mixed up.

    Casino
     
  2. nzfauna

    nzfauna Senior Member

    Wellington, New Zealand
    New Zealand, English
    I see nothing wrong with it.
     
  3. bibliolept

    bibliolept Senior Member

    Northern California
    AE, Español
    I wouldn't want to debate a linguist, but it passes the idiomatic and understandable tests.

    Also, I can think of one situation where the argument may not hold: What if there are various candidates to ask the question? In that case, the assumption is that the question will be asked anyway and an answer would be provided, but the specificity of the answer might change depending on who asks the question. (If that doesn't make sense, I apologize.)
     
  4. Dimcl Senior Member

    British Columbia, Canada
    Canadian English
    Well, with all due respect to the linguist... he follows many rules, I suspect.

    The fact is that we all use "even if" so often that it doesn't raise an eyebrow. Technically, "even" is redundant - the proper sentence would be "If I were to ask him...". If you think about it, it makes sense.
     
  5. nzfauna

    nzfauna Senior Member

    Wellington, New Zealand
    New Zealand, English
    There is nothing wrong with it linguistically.
     
  6. bibliolept

    bibliolept Senior Member

    Northern California
    AE, Español
    Somehow, I'm sure there a way that the linguist in question can justify his assertion that the phrase is incorrect. Then again, I'm not a fan of absolutes outside of aphorisms.

    Speaking of which, to paraphrase a piece of folksy advice, "Never argue with a linguist. You'll both get frustrated and only the linguist will like it."
     
  7. Harry Batt

    Harry Batt Senior Member

    Minneapolis
    USA English
    Even if and even so are both transitional phrases, but you probably won't find them accepted in a grammar handbook. My thorough handbook for writers provides a substantial list of transitional phrases. The list covers a page and a half. Even if is not listed which indicates that the phrase would be poor usage at best and unacceptable usage to the grammar hot shot. I am a proponent of idiomatic usage to convey thoughts in English. I think that even if meets the test.
     
  8. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    (1) Even if I were to ask him, he would answer vaguely.

    People seem to be unclear whether the potential problem is with the even or with the were. I think it's got to be with the were.

    He was very unpleasant; even if I asked him he would answer vaguely.

    I can't see any problem with this. This suggests I did ask him and found he answered vaguely.

    He was very unpleasant; even if I had asked him he would have answered vaguely.

    Again, no problem. I didn't ask him, but I'm confident he would have answered vaguely had I done so.

    The problem, such as it is, is surely with the tense of ask.

    (1) He was very unpleasant; even if I were to ask him he would answer vaguely.

    Casino's 'British linguist', if I've understood him right, is saying that 'even if I were to ask him' suggests that I haven't yet asked him. If he would answer means he habitually answered, then clearly the sentence doesn't work; he cannot have habitually answered a question which has never been put.

    But he would answer needn't mean this. Aren't we dealing with a standard form of conditional sentence?:

    If I go, I see him
    If I went, I would see him. (Have I gone? No. But if I went, I would see him).

    If I ask, he answers
    If I asked, he would answer (Have I asked? No. But if I asked, he would answer).

    What's the difference between if I asked and if I were to ask? Does one imply that I did ask and the other that I didn't? No. In both cases I didn't ask.

    For me there is no effective difference between:

    If I asked, he would answer.

    and

    If I were to ask, he would answer.

    In my view both are correct.

    Perhaps, you may say, it should be:

    (2) He was very unpleasant; even if I were to ask him he would have answered vaguely.

    But here, for me, the sequence of tenses is wrong. It should be:

    ...even if I had asked he would have answered vaguely.
     
  9. sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England
    I agree with Dimcl at post #4: "even" is superfluous.
     
  10. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    Are you saying it adds no meaning, Sound Shift? That the sentence has the same impact without it?
     
  11. sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England
    Yes, Thomas.

    It might be a different matter if "I" were emphasized - "Even if I were to ask him ....." (of all the people who might ask him, "I" have the most leverage over him and therefore the best chance of getting a straight answer out of him).
     
  12. casino Senior Member

    Japan
    The British linguist says that the meaning of “even if” is:
    “Even if A does not happen, B is still true.” in “even if A, B.”
    So according to him, the sentence mentioned is not acceptable.

    Casino
     
  13. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    Have you got him there talking to you, Casino? I find this more difficult to understand that your opening post. Does he think removing the even alters his case in any way?
     
  14. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod

    That doesn't make sense to me, casino. "Even if" does not have to have a "not" in there. "Even if" can be used as "Even if A were to happen, B would be true" or "Even if A happens, B won't." There's nothing inherent in "Even if" to make the first part negative and the second part positive.

    Let's say five people in the office asked him and got a vague answer. They go to their manager and ask him to ask this other person. The manager answers, "Even if I were to ask him, he would answer vaguely. He only gives vague answers."

    Other examples:

    Even if I were to give up drinking, she would still call me a drunk.
    Even if we stop greenhouse gas emissions tomorrow, we will still affect global temperatures for a hundred years to come.
    Even if I wanted to, I couldn't.
    Even if I were to be unfaithful to her, she would love me.
     
  15. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    James,
    I think you are arguing, as I argued in post 8, that we are dealing here with a normal form of conditional sentence.

    My worry is that our objection is so obvious that Casino's linguist cannot be making this particular point. This is why I wondered if the main verb was being taken in a different sense. Take your sentence:

    Even if I were to give up drinking, she would still call me a drunk.

    If she would still call me a drunk meant, as it could in some circumstances, she was in the habit of calling me a drunk, then your sentence becomes:

    Even if I were to give up drinking, she was still in the habit of calling me a drunk.

    Clearly now the sentence is meaningless, but I must concede that this is not simply because you haven't given up drinking.

    I've been trying to think of logical reasons why this person might say the sentence is meaningless, and this is the best I've come up with so far.
     
  16. casino Senior Member

    Japan
    I am writing this based on a book written by the linguist, which was published here in Japan.
    He thinks that the sentence should be "If I were to ask him, he would answer vaguely." because if I did not ask him, he could not answer.

    Casino
     
  17. GreenWhiteBlue

    GreenWhiteBlue Senior Member

    New York
    USA - English
    Your British linguist is talking through his hat. (That, by the way, is an idiomatic expression meaning "he doesn't know what he is talking about".) JamesM is completely correct: there is NOTHING inherent in the phrase "even if" that makes the second part of the statement necessarily true or false.

    Look at these examples, the first with an "even if" that is contrary to fact, and the second "even if" which is not contrary to fact.

    The fact that I cannot afford a couture dress has nothing to do with my decision not to buy one. I am a single man, and have no use for a couture dress. Even if I could afford a couture dress, I still would not buy one.

    I do not like to go to work in the rain, but I cannot take the day off because of the weather. It is raining today, but that makes no difference: even if it is raining, I still have to go to work.

    In the example you gave, it would make sense to have a dialogue such as this:
    Joe's wife: Joe says that he is taking us on a surprise trip next week, but he won't say where we are going; he just keeps giving vague answers. Could you find out for me where we are going?
    Joe's sister: It would do no good for me to ask either. He knows that I will tell you.
    Wife: But you are his favorite sister!
    Sister: That makes no difference; even if I were to ask him, he would answer vaguely.
     
  18. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    Thank you, Casino,

    I think some of us are saying that we don't think there's a problem because this is just a simple conditional sentence of a standard form like:

    If I go, I will see him.
    If I went, I would see him.
    If I asked him, he would answer vaguely.

    Notice that in the case of if I went, I would see him, I didn't necessarily go, and if I didn't I could not have seen him. It just means that if I were to go, I would see him. In the same way, if I were to ask him he would answer vaguely. The fact that I may not have asked him is neither here nor there; we are concerned with what would happen if I did.
     
  19. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    This site seems to contain the advice casino is referring to.

    Although I can't read Japanese (sadly) it appears that 'G Watkins' is being quoted as distinguishing between "if X then Y" and "even if X then Y" by saying that the latter implies "whether or not X, then Y".

    He rules out Even if I were to ask him, he would answer vaguely on the grounds that you can't say Whether or not I were to ask him, he would answer vaguely [someone who's not been "asked" can't "answer"].

    He applies similar logic to One pretends not to notice the faults of others, even if one is aware of them saying that this also fails the "whether or not" test [if one is not aware, one can't pretend not to notice].

    Both sentences, he argues, should therefore use "if" rather than "even if".

    I'd like to think about this. But my initial reaction is that "even if" can sometimes imply "whether or not"; but that it doesn't always.

    I agree with those who have already said that Even if I were to ask him, he would answer vaguely is a valid sentence.
     
  20. Dimcl Senior Member

    British Columbia, Canada
    Canadian English
    Once again, the lack of context has sent us off in all directions.

    Contrary to my first post, I completely agree that "even if" is valid as used in the original sample sentence if the scenario is one such as presented by GWB. My first post was a response to the sentence as a standalone and, based on that assumption, I stick by it.

    If context had been provided at the beginning, we could have all agreed that Casino's linguist was "misguided" and I would have slept better last night.;)
     
  21. Wobby Senior Member

    English [England]
    Hmm... I hope I don't look like I'm stirring up any arguments for the sake of it (I just think it is interesting), but I think I see the linguist's point (regardless of context). It seems like one of those philosophical puzzles that you may see occassionally.

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    I think what the linguist is saying is, the use of 'Even if' requires two statements to be true:

    If A does not happen, B does not happen.
    If A happens, B does not happen.

    Therefore, one can conclude, and is allowed to say, "Even if A happens/does not happen, B (still) does not happen."

    (Which ones is deleted depends on which one we are more interested in.)

    ------------------------------
    Almost exactly the same scenario (actually, it is an identical requirement to the first, where we let B = old event B not happening):

    If A does not happen, B happens.
    If A happens, B happens.

    Therefore, "Even if A happens/does not happen, B (still) happens"

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    casino's sentence cannot use "Even if", because it does not tick the "If A does not happen, B happens" box. "If I were not to ask him, he would answer vaguely." :cross: This makes no sense. Which is probably why casino was asked to remove the word 'even'.


    "Even if I could afford a couture dress, I still would not buy one."
    This use of "Even if" is fine. "If I could afford a couture dress, I would not buy one." :tick: This statement is true.

    "If I could not afford a couture dress, I would not buy one." :tick: Also true.

    "Even if it is raining, I still have to go to work."
    This use of "Even if" is fine. "If it is raining, I still have to go to work." :tick: Fine.

    "If it is not raining, I still have to go to work." :tick: Again, fine.


    These two examples do not have at least one of the required 2 statements 'not working', hence they are not really counter-examples.




    ---------------------------------------------------------------------

    I think more than anything, the linguist is being pedantic. I think that in terms of philosophical terminology of logic, he is correct, but in eveyday life, we do not use these definitions, hence casino's statement would be right.

    In much the same way, I know somebody that is particularly pedantic about the use of the word 'random'. If someone were to say "I picked a number randomly", he would say "You can't say that, because you had not truly picked the number randomly, because it was inevitable you were going to pick that number due to the particular values of external variables at the time." I.e. he was using taking the use of 'random' in terms of very strict mathematical terminology, hence in a way he would be correct. However, 'mathematical terminology' isn't 'the language of the land', just as 'philosophical terminology' isn't, hence, in a way, the person's use of random would be right, as perhaps is casino's use of "Even if". :D
     
  22. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I think Wobby's post very clearly articulates the difference between if and even if.
    That difference may not be observed in practice, but it is there.
     
  23. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    Wobby, Thank you very much for this interesting analysis.

    I don't think the linguist is 'just being pedantic'; I think he is wrong. Even if is not the same thing as whether or not.

    Whether or not I ask him he answers vaguely is ridiculous for the reasons you explain, though it's worth adding that the case is dependent on the particular relationship between ask and answer.

    Whether or not I go, I see him is not subject to the same objection.

    But even if I ask him doesn't mean the same as whether or not I ask him. Even if I ask him he answers vaguely is saying that he answers vaguely if I ask him - and by implication my asking him is the strategy most likely to provoke a proper answer, as opposed to other things I might do to elicit a response: like writing to him, getting a friend to ask him, making friendly signs to him - NOTE that not asking him is not one of these possible strategies.

    Even if I ask him... means even if I adopt this best strategy as opposed to other likely strategies, I get this unfavourable response. This is very different from whether or not I ask him.., which suggests I have only two options, one of which is, in this case, absurd, and I'm surprised people should maintain they are logically the same.
     
  24. Wobby Senior Member

    English [England]
    Well, the truth is, I can only speculate in the way I saw the meaning of "even if", and the interpretation I believe that the linguist happened to be taking. I can see where you are coming from, however. What truly is required, is a canon rule for how it should be used - then again, I suppose it is the everyday people that make the rules. I was actually pondering whether there happens to be a definition in Philosophy of 'even if', to which there is a consensus, which would at least justify the views of the linguist. Perhaps it is like all these debates about what 'to know' really requires! Otherwise, could we truly confirm what specifically are the parameters required to use "even if"?

    I guess that providing another source that I have just found (devoted to grammar) with a similar view would not necessarily give confirmation, but I shall provide it anyway (the exact same example is at the bottom): http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/grammarlogs4/grammarlogs527.htm


    But to go by the definition mentioned opens another can of worms. "To invite comparison of the stated assertion, negation, etc., with an implied one that is less strong or remarkable." This would require the outcome to be a continuous, and not a discrete variable. It seems even this definition may have its flaws.
     
  25. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    The linguist is right.
    Thomas Tompion is right.

    Each is picking a different point along the spectrum of understanding of even if.

    I have no difficulty in accepting a definition of even if that is equivalent to whether or not. But in everyday conversation a much less algebraic definition is applied.
     
  26. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    And to be fair to Mr Watkins, there may well be subtleties in his argument that weren't picked up in my read-only-the-English-bits summary in post 19 {Japanese-speaking MM, where art thou?}.

    Having done some further pondering since that post, it seems to me that Mr Watkins' "can you substitute 'whether or not'?" test is often, but not always, helpful in determining whether "even if" - as distinct from "if" - is applicable.

    In other words, if a sentence passes the "whether or not" test, then "even if" is fine.

    But if a sentence fails the "whether or not" test, then it's possible that "even if" is still fine.

    In saying that, I think I'm repeating, in different words, what Wobby and panj have already said. (By the way, I agree with panj about the lucidity of Wobby's analysis:thumbsup:)

    As for the 'meaning' of "even if" - the question in the thread title - I would say it often means something like "in the unlikely event that".
     
  27. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    Here's Professor Woodham thickening the plot by saying that even if means both whether or not and supposing that (which is quite close to Loob's in the unlikely event that).

    Incidentally, In the unlikely event that and supposing that both work in our ask/answer sentence:

    In the unlikely event that I were to ask him, he would answer vaguely.
    Supposing that I were to ask him, he would answer vaguely.

    As I suspect that several of us agree that whether or not I were to ask him, he would answer vaguely has him answering vaguely in the event of my not asking him, and is therefore absurd, I don't think I will be the only one to think Woodham wrong to say that whether or not is equivalent to supposing that.

    What I think may have happened, and this is pure speculation, is that people tried out these sentences in their heads and the equivalence seemed pretty good and this led them to a dangerous generalization: they forgot that some verbs are reciprocal (ask/answer, give/give back).

    Whether or not I were to give him a book, he would give it back to me - clearly absurd; he can't give it back to me if I didn't give it to him.
    Supposing I were to give him a book, he would give it back to me - I can't see a problem here.
    Even if I were to give him a book, he would always give it back to me - nor here.

    Where this reciprocal relationship is absent the Woodham hypothesis seems much more sensible.

    1. Whether or not I went I would see him.
    2. Even if I went, I would see him.
    3. Supposing that I went, I would see him.

    I can sense the parallels between 1. and 2. here and wonder why I can't sense it in the case of asking and answering. Can it be that in 2. we are faced with an apparent choice between going and not going - which is the essence of part of Wobby's explanation, while in the sentence in the original post I don't see us faced with such a simple choice of strategies to elicit an answer from him? That's my immediate explanation. But what is there in the two different sentences to imply such a difference? I can't see anything.

    This would be my way of explaining the apparent logical impasse in Panj.'s post 25.
     
  28. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    I'm afraid I've had a further thought about this overnight.

    I've been trying to make sense of this view that even if means whether or not, and to consider the circumstances in which it might do so.

    Does even if I ask him mean the same as whether or not I ask him? Yes, under certain conditions.

    Whether or not covers all eventualities. I ask or I don't ask: all other possible strategies - getting other people to ask, being nice, giving him pots of jam: all are included in I don't ask. Whether or not seems to me the same as saying whatever I do, but it presents the issue in a binary way which makes whether or not I ask him, he answers vaguely sound absurd, while whatever I do, he answers vaguely sounds sensible: only a very pedantic person would say, in the second case, 'but if you didn't ask him, he wouldn't be able to answer'.

    Under what circumstances will even if equally cover all eventualities? Only, it seems to me, where even has superlative force. I'll try to show what I mean by that:

    Suppose I have only four possible strategies for making my boy Alfie eat cake. I'll call them 1, 2, 3, & 4., in ascending order of my estimation of the likelihood that they will be effective; thus I think 4. the best strategy. Can I say even if I do 2. Alfie won't eat cake? I think I can: if I do 1. he won't eat cake; even if I do 2. he won't eat cake. But that doesn't mean whether or not I do 2. he won't eat cake, because I haven't mentioned his response to 3. or 4. (both included in not doing 2.). This is not yet an a fortiori argument.

    It seems to me that only in the case of 4 can I say that even if I do 4 is the same as whether or not I do 4. 4 is my best option and if that doesn't work nothing will: all eventualities have been covered. Alfie won't eat cake whether or not I do 4 means the same as Alfie won't eat cake even if I do 4.

    To illustrate the point further with a famous example from literature, I'll consider the opening of psalm 139, where we are concerned with the terrible problem of living with an omnipresent god. The Christian considers his possible means of evasion:

    7. If I climb up into heaven, thou art there : if I go down to hell, thou art there also.
    8. If I take the wings of the morning : and remain in the uttermost parts of the sea;
    9. Even there also shall thy hand lead me : and thy right hand shall hold me.

    So I seem to have three choices: 1. Climbing up into heaven. 2. Going down into hell. 3. Taking the wings of the morning and remaining in the uttermost parts of the sea.

    Even if I adopt strategy 3. I can't escape this permanent presence, this god sitting on my shoulder. Is this the same as saying whether or not I take the wings of the morning etc.? No, it isn't, because even if is a comparative rather than a superlative concept. The psalmist has up his sleeve a further, more extreme, strategy, which he discloses in verse 10:

    10. If I say, Peradventure the darkness shall cover me...

    I'm pleased to think that Miles Coverdale is on my side. Here's the complete text.
     
  29. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I don't think the example from Psalm 139 is relevant as a counter to the illogicality of the topic sentence.

    The action in the topic sentence is "... he would answer vaguely".
    For him to answer at all, he must be asked a question.
    The action in Psalm 139 is "... shall thy hand lead me."
    The hand leads regardless of where I am. That is the point of the passage.

    To my mind, the only way around the illogicality is to interpret the sentence as bibliolept suggested in post #3, stressing I.
    Even if I were to ask him, he would answer vaguely.

    The pedantic linguist is reading the sentence with the stress on ask.
    Even if I were to ask him, he would answer vaguely.
     
  30. casino Senior Member

    Japan
    Thank you very much, everyone.

    Casino
     
  31. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    Casino's linguist objects to the sentence as stated because he apparently fails to "read between the lines".

    For simplicity, let me set aside the fact that "I" do not intend to ask "him":

    "Even if I ask him, he will answer vaguely."

    This sentence is not wrong because it does not mean that he will answer whether or not I ask but that he will never answer other than vaguely. Apparently everything he says about the subject in question is vague, whether in answer to a direct question or not.

    The complete idea is:

    He never speaks clearly about subject x. If I bring up subject x casually, he will not speak about it clearly. If, on the other hand, I ask him quite directly about subject x, he will still not speak clearly about it, even in answer to my question.

    "Even if" fits because how the subject is brought up will not change how he speaks about it. "He will answer" fits because it is in answer to what I ask.

    By the way, "even" did not carry quite the same meaning in King James's day as it does now.
     
  32. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Indeed, but Casino's linguist is a pedant who is not prepared to read between the lines - or more charitably, he is making a point by deliberately choosing not to read between the lines - or quite possibly, he's enjoying the fact that saying what he said creates days of discussion and long threads :)
     
  33. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    This is interesting, Forero, but doesn't address the problem raised in Panj.'s (29) and several other posts (21, for instance), that we aren't concerned here with bringing up a subject and speaking about it, but with asking a question and having it answered. People are saying that my asking is a necessary condition of his answering. If I don't ask then he can't answer.

    Even if means, it seems to me, if those conditions apply which are more likely to be successful. Now if under other strategies success is logically impossible, then they cannot serve as a point of comparison, and the even becomes inapplicable - even if should have been expressed just plain if.

    I hope this is a fair account of the argument for using if, rather than even if, in the title sentence.

    I actually disagree this argument, and hence with Panj.'s post (29), despite my earlier post (deleted now) which expressed agreement. I agree with Forero that the title sentence 'is not wrong', but for other reasons than the ones he gives.

    I don't believe that my asking is a necessary condition of his answering me (I want to close the escape route, ostensibly helpful to my argument, of the objection that he might answer someone else). I think he could answer if I begged or beseeched or entreated or pleaded, and that among these alternative verbs there is likely to be one which would be less likely to elicit a precise response from him than if I asked. We only need one such verb to have a point of comparison, and if we have a point of comparison down the scale from ask, we can fairly say 'Even if I were to ask him, he would answer vaguely'.

    Now if people object that begging and entreating and beseeching and putting one's head on one side in an appealing manner are all, in a word, asking, then they are making my asking a necessary condition of his answering, and the even needs to go. I don't think we do make it a necessary condition in ordinary language because I think the following conversation is wholly possible and reasonable:

    Secretary: He didn't answer.
    Boss: Did you ask him?
    Secretary: I put my head on one side in an appealing manner.
    Boss: But you didn't ask him?
    Secretary: No.
     
  34. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    Here is a more transparent example:

    Even if he were to run, he would run slowly.

    This does not mean that he would run without running. It only means he tends to go slowly, running or no.

    The original sentence does not work for me if we leave off "vaguely".
     
  35. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I promised myself I wouldn't indulge further in this thread :)
    But ...
    Forero's example is not equivalent to the original sentence.
    The linguist's point in the original sentence is that the action in the second part cannot take place if the action in the first part does not happen. He cannot answer unless he is asked.
    Although it is possible to develop concepts of ask and answer that make the sentence possible, they do not detract from the initial point.

    It is a curious and amusing point
     
  36. LV4-26

    LV4-26 Senior Member

    I'm 99%* with Panj here.

    No matter how you look at the issue, Casino's linguist is right and has an interesting point.
    What I find equally curious and amusing is the way we speakers sort of bypass the requirements of logic. And I find nothing wrong with that.

    Even if I were to ask him, he would answer vaguely

    In this sentence, the issue lies with "I" as much as with "he".
    Behind it, I'm reading something like "Stop pressing me. I told you I would not ask him. And even if I accepted, he would answer vaguely......"
    There are other possibilities, as has been already shown. Context would tell. But all of them go somewhat beyond the normal scope of even if.

    And yes, strictly speaking, there's a logical flaw due to the fact that I'm using "even if" to mean something it wasn't exactly designed for. But...that's precisely what I find interesting.

    * The 1% missing is that I do find forero's example to belong in the same category of "slightly hijacking -- or, rather, enriching --the usual sense of even if".
     
  37. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    But LV4, we've argued that this isn't true, and I can't see that you've addressed the arguments

    Again, we've argued that, strictly speaking, there's no logical flaw. I'm not convinced that this is an improper use of 'even if' at all. I wish you would persuade us to see it from your point of view. Notice how in your brown example you envisage a possibility which is down the line from asking him, and that, in my view, justifies the even if. I'm not clear why you think it doesn't.
     
  38. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    But Panj. if the argument is based on my asking being a necessary condition of his answering, I don't see that you can explain how the argument holds up if my asking is not a necessary condition of his answering. This is why I think we need to be clear whether in ordinary speech we talk about people answering in circumstances other than when they are asked.
     
  39. LV4-26

    LV4-26 Senior Member

    I read every post in this thread, one by one, as they appeared on my screen. However, I never really re-read the entire thread. So I may have missed something.

    Call me narrow-minded, but I'm simply unable to get past this evidence:
    A. Even if I were to ask him, he would answer vaguely
    implies....
    B. If I did not ask him, he would answer vaguely

    It seems to me that every time we've tried (myself included) to draw some sense out of this, we've had to artificially create a peculiar context.

    Having said that, this is surely not a vital issue :) and I'm also willing to be convinced of the opposite.
    Again, I may hve missed an argument of yours and would be happy to reduce my claims to "apparent logical flaw". :)
     
  40. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    When you say we, of course, you mean some of us, not all of us.
    Equally, we have argued that on the face of it there is a logical flaw.
    This flaw can be manoeuvred around by adroit flexing of definitions, but it has taken a great deal of manoeuvring and there are still some who are not convinced. That in itself demonstrates that the linguist's point has validity.

    And here I stop.
     
  41. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    Thank you very much for your answer, LV4.

    The logical flaw, apparent or otherwise, is whether or not my asking is a necessary condition of his answering. If it isn't a necessary condition then we have a choice of strategies for getting him to answer and even if, which is a comparative, has a point of comparison.

    I suggested that he could answer if I beseeched or entreated him, or used many other strategies to appeal to him. Is this really to 'artificially create a peculiar context'?
     
  42. LV4-26

    LV4-26 Senior Member

    Not really, I agree.
    Actually, I feel I'm no longer able to decide on this. I don't find you wrong but I don't find the linguist wrong either. That'll be my last post on the topic....if I manage to be wise enough.

    I agree with Forero that...
    1. If I were to ask him, he would answer. :tick:
    2. Even if I were to ask him, he would answer. ??

    ...in that 2. inevitably implies 2a. If I didn't ask him, he would answer.

    I was also interested to realize that, if you shift the main clause from affirmative to negative, you get an implied tautology instead of an implied contradiction.

    3. If I were to ask him, he would not answer :tick:
    4. Even if I were to ask him, he would not answer ~

    4. implying 4a If I didn't ask him, he would not answer.

    ~ = Unlke #2, I would surely say that one without the slightest blink, but would understand that Casino's linguist take issue with it. :)
     
  43. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    Thank you, LV4.

    You've cleared up one really big point for me. I'll concentrate on it.

    Consider your sentence 2. Even if I were to ask him, he would answer. You say that saying this 'inevitably implies' 2a. If I didn't ask him, he would answer.

    I'll try to show that 2. doesn't imply 2a., so the apparent absurdity of 2a. doesn't make 2. meaningless.

    Imagine that I'm trying to get him to answer and I've got only two strategies for doing so:

    a. asking him.
    b. imploring him.

    I think he's more likely to answer if I implore him than if I ask him.

    In fact he answers whichever I do: he answers if I implore him; he answers even if I ask him (your sentence 2).

    Obviously he doesn't answer if I neither ask nor implore him.

    Therefore, saying even if I ask him he answers does not imply that he answers when you don't ask.
     
  44. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    I've done some more pondering and re-read the thread, and I think I've finally seen the light...

    I've realised that I am uncomfortable with the equation of "even if" with "whether or not" because "even if" implies that there are many possibilities, not just two.

    In other words, "even if X happened, Y would happen" implies:

    (1) if X happened, Y would happen
    (2) if X did not happen, Y would still happen
    (3)if something completely different happened, Y would still happen.

    So casino's "Even if I were to ask him, he would answer vaguely" implies:

    (1a) if I asked him, he would answer vaguely
    (2a) if I didn't ask him, he would still answer vaguely
    (3a) if something completely different happened, he would still answer vaguely.

    (2a) doesn't make much sense; but there's surely plenty of scope in (3a).
    If his granny asked him...; if he appeared on "Who wants to be a Millionaire?"...; if I hit him on the head with a boiled banana...

    I think that this was what TT was saying quite early on in this thread:eek:

    So to repeat (this time with conviction!): "Even if I were to ask him, he would answer vaguely" is a perfectly valid sentence:)
     
  45. LV4-26

    LV4-26 Senior Member

    Yes, Loob. That's precisely what I understood from TT's last post.
    There are more alternatives than just asking or not asking.

    And this (with only a small adaptation) could apply to bibliolept's interpretation, which was:
    Even if I were to ask him, he would answer vaguely. ==>
    There are more alternatives than just I asking or I not asking. There is also someone else asking.
     

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