If and if

Discussion in 'All Languages' started by ThomasK, Dec 6, 2008.

  1. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    I have recently noticed how difficult it seems to be for non-native speakers of Dutch to distinguish between
    - the conditional if in English (if you do that, then I will ...: that would be als or indien in Dutch) and
    - the if introducing (suggest a more adequate word here please) indirect questions (I wonder if you are coming, which can only be translated by of in Dutch, ob in German)

    Of course it is simple in English as the latter if can be replaced by whether. But there is certain some semantic similarity between both uses, which explains why it is the same si in French - or is there a synonym for one of both or for both ?

    How about in your language ?

    And would you have simple tricks to help (French) learners ? I think place shows something: you cannot move an indirect question to the front of the sentence, I think. But I would welcome other suggestions !
  2. Mahaodeh Senior Member

    Arabic and English
    In Arabic you actually have three:

    The conditional itha إذا = if you do that, then I will...etc. إذا فعلت كذا فسأفعل كذا which is used exactly like the the conditional if.

    The "wishing" law لو = if you had done that, then I would have ...etc. لو فعلت كذا لفعلت كذا, which is used for things that did not happen in the past but you are hypothetically assuming they did. It's also used as a polite or indirect way of asking someone to do something: لو جئت فزرتنا = if you would only come to visit us (meaning "I wish you would visit us" and implying "please visit us").

    There is also in إن = it can be used interchangablly with itha, but also can be used for your example of inderect questions: I wonder if you are coming. أتسائل إن كنت ستحضر
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2008
  3. User1001 Senior Member

    American English
    It's basically used for a question that can be answered with a definite yes or no answer, so yes-no-if-statement? :p
  4. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    OK, tspier, but that is also implied by an if clause, that is part of the problem...

    In Arabic it must then be easier to distinguish between the two. But my learners do not speak Arabic ! ;-)
  5. jazyk Senior Member

    Brno, Česká republika
    Brazílie, portugalština
    Portuguese has only one word: se.
  6. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    I suppose it is the case in most Romanic languages... The problem is, however, that there is a difference in German and Dutch, though I use the same word in my own dialect as well.

    The other point is how to help learners make the distinction. In principle the indirect question is an object in most cases, or at least a complement, an if clause is an adverbial...
  7. kitenok Senior Member

    Russian does make a distinction between whether (ли, placed after the key word in a binary indirect question) and conditional if (если, placed before the clause as in English).
    Interestingly enough, I have known several native speakers of Russian living in the US who regularly ignore this distinction; they use a если clause in either case. I haven't been to Russia for a long time, so I'm not sure to what extent, if any, the distinction has broken down there also. (Comments or corrections from native speakers in Russia are welcome - I am neither a native speaker, nor in Russia).

    When I was teaching introductory Russian, I was always very careful to teach ли first, make sure it was natural for my students in indirect questions, and wait some time before teaching them conditional with если. I learned that if you give them если (if) first, or even at the same time as ли (whether), then they will just use если for everything.
  8. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    Very interesting consideration, Kitenok. But I think the conditional meaning is the 'natural' one, suggesting a choice (implied in both) between two options (yes or no, the case or not), and that the other one is basically a grammatical extra-distinction, not conveying a very specific meaning.

    I think it is a hard option not to mention the conditional if before the other because I think it is more frequent and important from a communicational (?) point of view and because the conditional meaning is fundamental. Or am I wrong ? Basically I wonder why the distinction is strictly speaking necessary or useful, in fact !
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2008
  9. mcibor Senior Member

    In Polish, after a long thought I must say that there are three, similar to Mahaodeh

    1. The first conditional jeśli - if you do that, then I will - Jeśli to zrobisz, to ja (also Polish MS Excel uses this word), and it's the official translation of if. But jeśli is seldom used in sentences like
    2. The "wishing" law gdy - if you had done that, then I would have - Gdybyś to zrobił, to ja
    3. Indirect question czy - I wonder if you are coming - Zastanawiam się, czy przyjdzieszI'm not sure how is it exactly in French, but I would just tell them, that when creating conditionals use als or indien (with telling what the difference between these two words is) and use of for indirect questions like:
    I think if...
    I wonder if...
    Do you know if...

    But truly, for Polish people this is not a problem ;)
  10. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    Just one small question, Mcibor: do the words seem to be related phonetically ?

    Thanks for the hint. But the number of main clauses introducing indirect questins is way bigger, does not even hint remotely (well...) at a question. You see ?
  11. mcibor Senior Member

    I wouldn't say the are related in any way.
    jeśli is "if condition" if... then
    gdy is more a time clause - when sth...
    czy is the question forming element

    They aren't linked phonetically either.
  12. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Thomas' sentence "I wonder if you are coming" would most often be said Será que você vem?, though perhaps this should be regarded as an idiom.

    It is true that se can mean both "if" and "whether" (and indeed other things).
  13. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    Thanks. So the -y has no specific meaning, I gather, but then there is some kind of lexical element referring to questions then. Does it also turn up in 'I do not know ...', where there is only a very indirect link with a question ? (I think it is used in Esperanto as well: ci or something).

    But not in conditional clauses, I think.
  14. mcibor Senior Member

    the "czy" element can come up in all questions than in English are created by inversion:

    She is nice -> Is she nice? -> Czy ona jest miła?
    You smoke -> Do you smoke? -> Czy palisz?

    And mostly when you pointed out:
    I don't know ... - nie wiem czy...

    but not in
    I don't know that ;) which is no question.
  15. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    Great, thanks. But do I read 'mostly' ??? (I might ask one of my European pupils in Brussels about more information, but feel free to answer)...
  16. mcibor Senior Member

    Mostly, meaning not always. There are constructions that Polish wouldn't use word czy

    "I don't know that" will be translated as "Nie wiem tego" or "Nie znam tego"

    hmm, I just encountered a strange thing...
    In the present tense
    I don't know that he will translate to Nie wiem, czy on
    but in the past tense it would be
    I didn't know that he - Nie wiedziałem, że on
    However if you use construction if...or it translates to
    I don't know if he did it or not - Nie wiem, czy to zrobił, czy nie

    Just because of that I wrote mostly
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2008
  17. Cosol Member

    Italiano - Italia
    Yes, it uses ĉu, which is also used for direct questions, in fact Esperanto conlanger was Polish.
  18. Encolpius

    Encolpius Senior Member

    Praha (Prague)
    magyar (Hungarian)

    If you do that.. = ha
    I wonder if you are coming... = hogy, hogy vajon, vajon
  19. apmoy70

    apmoy70 Senior Member

    In Greek:

    «Εάν και εφόσον» [e'an ce e'foson] (fossilized expression) < Classical «ἐάν καὶ ἐφ' ὅσον» ĕān kæ ĕpʰ' hósŏn --> if and inasmuch as

    Conj. «ἐάν» ĕān < formed by crasis of conjunction «εἰ» ei (Doric «αἰ» æ, Arcado-Cypriot «ἤ» ḗ) --> if, whether (introduces optative, with obscure etymology) with modal particle «ἄν» án --> used with verbs for emphasis, or to indicate the action is limited or defined by conditions (introduces subjunctive, with obscure etymology)

    «Ἐφ' ὅσον» ĕpʰ' hósŏn < prefix and preposition «ἔπὶ» ĕpì --> upon, on, over (PIE *h₁epi, near, at, against) + neuter form of relative pronoun & indirect interrogative adj. «ὅσος/ὅσσος, -η, -ον» hósŏs & hóssŏs (masc.), hósē (fem.), hósŏn (neut.) --> as much as, as great as (PIE *yós, *yā, *yód (masc. fem. neut.) --> who, which, that)
  20. arielipi Senior Member

    In hebrew we have something similar to arabic, but we also have one word that acts exactly like if in english.
  21. Saluton Banned

    Moscow, Russia
    It hasn't at all.
    I'd like to add that the very word если ('yesli', if) originated as an amalgamation: есть + ли ('yest' + 'li', is + whether). Even the word или ('ili', or) is an amalgamation, too: и + ли (and + whether).
    Also, ли ('li', whether) is mostly used in 'whether'-clauses, rather than in questions. Using it in a question makes it sound rather formal or even rhetorical.
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2013
  22. Teekanne New Member

    Eğer, or obsolete: şayet ==> conditional
    -ıp ... -madığı ==> whether or not, if

    Eğer gelirsen ben de gelirim. (If you com, I'll come too.)
    Onun gidip gelmediğini bilmiyorum. (I don't know whether he/she went.)
  23. Holger2014 Senior Member


    "ob" = "if" (introducing a subordinate clause): "Ich frage mich, ob..." = "I wonder if..."
    "wenn" = "if" (conditional): "Wenn es regnet,..." = "If it rains..."
    "wenn" = "when", "whenever": "Wenn es regnet, ..." = "When(ever) it rains..."

    That's why it takes us a while to understand the English "if-concept"...

    "Ob" can also be used to introduce an indirect question expecting a "yes" or "no" answer (a bit similar to Polish "czy")

Share This Page