If I win the lottery, I would buy a house

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sunyaer

Senior Member
Chinese
This is a sentence I made up myself.

Before the opening of a lottery, he says to his wife:

“If I win the lottery, I would buy a house.”

Some native speakers say that “I would…” should be replaced with “I will…”, or “I could /might…”. I feel “I would…” works in the sentence, although it implies buying a house is less likely than “I will…”. Another nuance between “I would…” and “I will..” is that “I will…” denotes buying a house is a direct result of the condition of winning the lottery, whereas “I would…” indicates that winning the lottery would be a necessary factor affecting my decision to buy a house, but not all, carrying the implication that buying a house or not might depend on other things as well. "I would..." in this context is a equivalent of "I might...", while "I could..." has a little different sense by shifting the focus of the sentence from possibility to ability of buying a house.

Does my understanding sound right to you? And what would you say?
 
  • PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    I think that it is a lot simpler than that. The context determines which will be used. The tense of the verb depends on what the question was:

    A: "If you win the lottery, what would you do?"
    B: “If I win the lottery, I would buy a house.” The would expresses the theoretical situation in both sentences.

    A: "If you win the lottery, what will you do?"
    B: “If I win the lottery, I will buy a house.” Here there is a definite plan [that is dependent upon winning the lottery.]

    There is the possibility that A already has a plan:

    A: "If you win the lottery, what would you do?"
    B: “If I win the lottery, I am going to buy a house.”
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    Hello, sunyaer. I have to agree with those unnamed native speakers you mentioned at the beginning of your paragraph. You should use "will" in this sentence: "If I win the lottery, I will buy the house."

    You've obviously given some thought to your private reasons for believing that "would" is acceptable, but I don't find them convincing. What's wrong with using "If I won the lottery and achieved several other things, I would buy the house?" That is a statement that seems to cover your other ideas yet uses the future unreal conditional in an ordinary way.

    If it makes you feel any better about your idea, I can tell you that most native English-speakers I've met don't know anything about the little rules that people learn when they study a chapter on conditional statements offered in some course for learning English as a foreign language. I've heard native speakers mix tenses in their conditional remarks as you did in your sentence. It always sounds wrong to me when they do.

    Cross-posted with Paul Q
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    I see it differently from PaulQ and similar to owlman5. If it's hypothetical I would expect "If you won the lottery, what would you do?" If it's asking about intentions or predictions it would be "If you win the lottery, what will you do?"

    To me it's always "won/would" or "win/will".

    It's similar to "If you lit the fuse on the bomb, what would happen?" This is calling for conjecture. "If you light the fuse on the bomb, what will it do?" This calls for prediction.
     
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    sunyaer

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    I think that it is a lot simpler than that. The context determines which will be used. The tense of the verb depends on what the question was:

    A: "If you win the lottery, what would you do?"
    B: “If I win the lottery, I would buy a house.” The would expresses the theoretical situation in both sentences. What does theoretical situation mean here?

    A: "If you win the lottery, what will you do?"
    B: “If I win the lottery, I will buy a house.” Here there is a definite plan [that is dependent upon winning the lottery.]

    There is the possibility that A already has a plan:

    A: "If you win the lottery, what would you do?"
    B: “If I win the lottery, I am going to buy a house.”
    In a context that there is no prompting question to the speaker, he just says that to express a hope of winning the lottery and things he might do if he does win, would he use "I would..."?
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    If there is no preceding context, then it is speculation and "would" is appropriate.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    There are two different conditional types which are relevant here:

    'If you win the lottery, what will you do?' (open future conditional); this treats the issue as a real possibility in the future;

    'If you won the lottery, what would you do?' (remote or unreal future conditional) this treats the possibility as unreal or unlikely to happen.
     

    cubaMania

    Senior Member
    From the point of view of this American, the correct combinations (as noted by JamesM above) are won/would and win/will. I would never combine "If I win" .... with "I would". Maybe it is a difference of British English versus American English.
     

    sunyaer

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    If there is no preceding context, then it is speculation and "would" is appropriate.
    So “if I win the lottery, I would buy a house” is correct without a preceding context? Please note that it's "win" not "won" in the "if" clause.
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    I am surprised, "If I won" is a conditional but the result may be certain (you know what you will do); an immediate reaction (you just think of something off the top of your head), or you speculate. The last, to me, requires "would."
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    There are two possible conditionals: "If I won" and "If I win". To me, the first is only hypothetical. The second one is a prediction of what will happen if the condition is met.

    The two don't mix, to my way of thinking.

    I can't imagine saying "If I had a child, I will be happy."
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    I'm not sure your example is particularly applicable but I'm not sure why.

    Would you not say:

    A: "You look miserable."
    B: "I am."
    A: "What would make you happy?"
    B: "If you clear off, I would be happy."?
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    I'm not sure your example is particularly applicable but I'm not sure why.

    Would you not say:

    A: "You look miserable."
    B: "I am."
    A: "What would make you happy?"
    B: "If you clear off, I would be happy."?
    To use this same structure, would you say: "If I have a child, I would be happy"? I wouldn't.
     

    aasheq

    Senior Member
    English (Estuary)
    This is not an AE/BE issue. It is just that on both sides of the pond some are more fastidious about usage than others. I at least would use the same mode in both clauses: twice indicative (win...will) or twice subjunctive (won...would).
     

    Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I'm British. I agree with JamesM.

    win/will

    won/would

    For me, "If you win the lottery..." presumes that you have indeed bought a lottery ticket.

    On the other hand "If you won the lottery..." is purely hypothetical.


    Examples
    I bought a lottery ticket today. If I win I shall buy a big house.

    I never do the lottery but if I did and if I won then I would buy a big house.
     
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    sunyaer

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    I'm not sure your example is particularly applicable but I'm not sure why.

    Would you not say:

    A: "You look miserable."
    B: "I am."
    A: "What would make you happy?"
    B: "If you clear off, I would be happy."?
    To use this same structure, would you say: "If I have a child, I would be happy"? I wouldn't.
    Two teens are arguing about how they say about each other's personality, would you say:

    "You say I am mean? If I buy you a lunch, what would you say about me then?"
     

    Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Two teens are arguing about how they say about each other's personality, would you say:

    "You say I am mean? If I buy you a lunch, what would you say about me then?"
    That is incorrect.

    "You say I am mean? If I buy you lunch, what will you say about me then?" :tick: This means the lunch is being offered.

    "You say I am mean? If I bought you lunch, what would you say about me then?" :tick: This is hypothetical. Lunch has not been offered yet. It may never be offered.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Those are two valid examples by Biffo.
    I agree that the second is a hypothetical sentence and treats the buying of lunch as unreal.
    I agree that the first is open and treats the buying of lunch as a real possibility.

    However, I do not agree that the first amounts to an offer of lunch. Suppose the reply is 'Well, then I will call you a good mate'.
    As far as the language question goes, it is still possible for the first speaker to reply, 'Well, because you have to be bribed into saying nice things, I'm not going to do it'.
     

    Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Those are two valid examples by Biffo.
    I agree that the second is a hypothetical sentence and treats the buying of lunch as unreal.
    I agree that the first is open and treats the buying of lunch as a real possibility.

    However, I do not agree that the first amounts to an offer of lunch. Suppose the reply is 'Well, then I will call you a good mate'.
    As far as the language question goes, it is still possible for the first speaker to reply, 'Well, because you have to be bribed into saying nice things, I'm not going to do it'.
    Okay - I get what you are saying. I still maintain that, in that last scenario, an offer was made (or at least intimated) and the fact that it turned out to be an ambush doesn't negate my argument. We have to take into account that language allows us to use subterfuge or even to lie outright. We don't necessarily mean what we say.
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    Two teens are arguing about how they say about each other's personality, would you say:

    "You say I am mean? If I buy you a lunch, what would you say about me then?"
    I would. I see this as "You say I am mean? If I buy you a lunch, in those circumstances, what would you say about me [then]?" The requested opinion is theoretical. There may be no real intention of buying lunch.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    I still maintain that, in that last scenario, an offer was made (or at least intimated) and the fact that it turned out to be an ambush doesn't negate my argument. We have to take into account that language allows us to use subterfuge or even to lie outright. We don't necessarily mean what we say.
    The follow-up that I suggested might lose a friend and might deserve to do so, but the logic of 'if' means that the idea of buying lunch is still a possibility only, rather than a direct offer.

    Saying (a) 'If I buy you lunch, what will you say about me then?' projects a possible scenario, which may or may not come about. No offer has yet been made: it has only been suggested.

    Saying (b) 'OK, I'll buy you lunch. Now what do you say about me?' makes an actual offer and if the speaker goes back on this, then he has broken his word.

    In case (a), the other person may feel tricked if the lunch fails to materialise, but in truth no actual offer was on the table. I would not defend that mode of conduct, but that is not the point.

    The point is linguistic and it is that even in an open future conditional, the content of the if-clause is still a supposition.
     
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    Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I would. I see this as "You say I am mean? If I buy you a lunch, in those circumstances, what would you say about me [then]?" The requested opinion is theoretical. There may be no real intention of buying lunch.
    I disagree. For me that should be "...If I bought..."
    The original sentence mixes tenses unacceptably in my opinion.
     

    sunyaer

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    I am surprised, "If I won" is a conditional but the result may be certain (you know what you will do); an immediate reaction (you just think of something off the top of your head), or you speculate. The last, to me, requires "would."
    To use this same structure, would you say: "If I have a child, I would be happy"? I wouldn't.
    I agree with PaulQ in that when you speculate, "would" is required. However, in certain contexts, this speculation might seem contradictory, as is seen in JamesM's example, "If I have a child, I would be happy". But if "I" changes to "he", "if he has a child, he would be happy" sounds perfectly right. The same logic applies to "you say I am mean? If I buy you a lunch, what would you say about me then". The "would" in the above two sentences denotes a speculation. You might not even say any words after I buy you a lunch, but in the case you want to say something at that time, what would you say? While in the "he would be happy" sentence, it's possible for him to have a child, and if he does, my speculation is that he would be happy.

    I didn't expect to see so much discussion and disagreement regarding this usage. I was taught in school that you can mix tenses in indicative and subjunctive expressions. From what I understand, the fact that you can do it doesn't mean you can always do it, since the context is the dependent factor for making the sentence sound logical and meaningful. But it’s too absolute to exclude the possibility of mixing tenses, isn’t it?
     

    Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    "if he has a child, he would be happy" sounds perfectly right...
    No, it sounds perfectly wrong. I could never imagine saying that. I don't even know what it means. Are you referring to the present or the future?
     

    sunyaer

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    "if he has a child, he would be happy" sounds perfectly right...
    No, it sounds perfectly wrong. I could never imagine saying that. I don't even know what it means. Are you referring to the present or the future?
    I am referring to the present by using "would" to express my speculation of thought. I am not 100% certain he will be happy if he has a child, but guessing he would. If "would" doesn't work, how would you get this meaning across?
     

    Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I am referring to the present by using "would" to express my speculation of thought. I am not 100% certain he will be happy if he has a child, but guessing he would. If "would" doesn't work, how would you get this meaning across?
    It depends what you are trying to say. Here are some possibilities:

    (a) If he has a child then he is happy. This means that I don't know whether he currently has a child but I believe that if he does currently have a child then he must be happy right now.

    (b) If he were to have a child he would be happy. This means that he doesn't have a child and he may never have a child but I am predicting his feelings if he decides to have a child in the future.

    (c) If he had a child then he was happy. This is the straightforward past tense of (a)

    (d) If he had a child he would be happy. This is a different usage of 'had'. It means that he doesn't have a child but having one would make him happy. It is very similar to (b)

    There are other possibilities. I hope this helps.
     

    sunyaer

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    ...
    (a) If he has a child then he is happy. This means that I don't know whether he currently has a child but I believe that if he does currently have a child then he must be happy right now.

    ...
    How would you express the idea if "I believe" is changed to "I speculate" in the above context?
    I want to get the sense of "speculate" across, "would" is not a choice?
     
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    JamesM

    Senior Member
    No. "If he has a child he might be happy" indicates speculation. "If he has a child I expect (or assume) he is happy" indicates belief or supposition. "If he has a child he could be happy" indicates possibility or speculation without a specific bias. In all cases the second half assumes the first half to be true. In other words: "Assuming he has a child, he might/I expect (or assume) he is/he could be happy."

    Take the condition as true. All the sentences make sense with the condition turned into a statement:

    "He has a child. He might be happy."
    "He has a child. I expect (or assume) he is happy."
    "He has a child. He could be happy."

    The only one that doesn't make sense is:

    "He has a child. He would be happy."
     

    sunyaer

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    I am trying to figure out the rational behind “if .... I would “ doesn’t work in some contexts, by keeping asking more questions.

    Do these sentences sound right?

    1. “If I have a meeting with the CEO, I would feel nervous.”
    2. “If you have a meeting with the CEO, would you feel nervous?”
    3. “If you have a meeting with the CEO, what would you say?”
     

    Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I am trying to figure out the rational behind “if .... I would “ doesn’t work in some contexts, by keeping asking more questions.

    Do these sentences sound right?

    1. “If I have a meeting with the CEO, I would feel nervous.”
    2. “If you have a meeting with the CEO, would you feel nervous?”
    3. “If you have a meeting with the CEO, what would you say?”
    All are incorrect.

    Here is what I think you mean:


    1. “If I had a meeting with the CEO (e.g. today), I would feel nervous.”
    2. “If you had a meeting with the CEO (at some unspecified time), would you feel nervous?”
    3. “If you had a meeting with the CEO, what would you say?”

    I think I'm beginning to understand the source of your confusion. Maybe I can come up with an answer if I think about it for a while.

    In the meantime can you find an actual example by a native speaker that shows this mixing of tenses?
     

    sunyaer

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    I think that it is a lot simpler than that. The context determines which will be used. The tense of the verb depends on what the question was:

    A: "If you win the lottery, what would you do?"
    B: “If I win the lottery, I would buy a house.” The would expresses the theoretical situation in both sentences.

    A: "If you win the lottery, what will you do?"
    B: “If I win the lottery, I will buy a house.” Here there is a definite plan [that is dependent upon winning the lottery.]

    There is the possibility that A already has a plan:

    A: "If you win the lottery, what would you do?"
    B: “If I win the lottery, I am going to buy a house.”
    I would. I see this as "You say I am mean? If I buy you a lunch, in those circumstances, what would you say about me [then]?" The requested opinion is theoretical. There may be no real intention of buying lunch.
    ...

    In the meantime can you find an actual example by a native speaker that shows this mixing of tenses?
    PaulQ is a native speaker, I believe, and my understanding and uses are quite in agreement with his.

    Are those examples given by PaulQ incorrect?
     
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    Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    PaulQ is a native speaker, I believe, and my understanding and uses are quite in agreement with his.
    Then I disagree with him. However the sentence that he endorses is much less problematical to me than the last three you offer, i.e.
    “If I have a meeting with the CEO, I would feel nervous.”
    “If you have a meeting with the CEO, would you feel nervous?”
    “If you have a meeting with the CEO, what would you say?”
    PaulQ, would you be happy with any of those?
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    PaulQ is a native speaker, I believe, and my understanding and uses are quite in agreement with his.

    Are those examples given by PaulQ incorrect?
    The form you need, Sunyaer, is the standard type 2 conditional.

    If I won the lottery, I would buy a house: this covers the example I think you are searching for - the perfect in the if-clause goes with the conditional in the main clause.

    There are hundreds of books which explain the simple principles. Don't you have one?

    There are rules governing the sequence of tenses in conditional sentences. If you don't follow them, people will think your English is poor and not know what you mean (notice that this sentence is a type I conditional (present in the if-clause, future in the main clause)).

    I remember saying something similar to you very recently (maybe this week even).

    There are mixed conditionals, which have very particular application, but I'd advise you to avoid them until you've mastered the four basic forms.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    I am trying to figure out the rational behind “if .... I would “ doesn’t work in some contexts, by keeping asking more questions.

    Do these sentences sound right?

    1. “If I have a meeting with the CEO, I would feel nervous.”
    2. “If you have a meeting with the CEO, would you feel nervous?”
    3. “If you have a meeting with the CEO, what would you say?”
    No, none of these work, in my opinion. It should be "had", not "have".
     

    sunyaer

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Are these two sentences correct? If not, how to express the intended thought?

    “If you take airplane to go back to China, what would you eat on the plane?”

    “If I take USA airline to go back to China, I would eat rice with pork on the plane.”
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    Moderator note: This thread has been closed. The original poster has received more than sufficient response on this combination of tenses and responses to further examples will not add any new information to this thread.
     
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