If we have it, it would be in aisle 14

< Previous | Next >

sunyaer

Senior Member
Chinese
This is a sentence I heard when shopping at Rona (a building material store). I believe the topic has been discussed numerous times, but I still see it's necessary to understand it clearly by bringing up the real language people are using.

Today I walked into Rona with a door hinge and asked the person working there where I could find a similar hinge, he said:

"If we have it, it would be in aisle 14."

From the person's accent, I am very confident that he is a native speaker of English, plus he looks like British although his accent is Canadian, which I am quite familiar with.

What he used here in the conditional is "have" rather than "had" while in the main clause is "would be". I guess the reason he didn't want to use "it will be in aisle 14" is that hinges might not be in aisle 14 even though the store carries the hinge I was asking about. I really see the need he formed this sentence to express what he was trying to say in an effective way in the context.

However, if the sentence is analyzed in grammar, many educated native speakers of English may tend to say the person paid little attention to his grammar. From the practical point of view, the sentence completely makes sense to me. My question is:

Do you think the sentence is a good one and would you say it in that context? If yes, is the rule of conditional sentences not working here?
 
  • Glenfarclas

    Senior Member
    English (American)
    Do you think the sentence is a good one and would you say it in that context? If yes, is the rule of conditional sentences not working here?
    Yes, the sentence is fine. It would sound like a counterfactual if it started with "If we had it." The use of "would" in the second half is in keepnig with the ordinary use of conditional forms to express politeness. Compare:

    Q. Excuse me, do you know where the hinges are?
    A. That would be in Aisle 14.​
     

    Cenzontle

    Senior Member
    English, U.S.
    The textbook rule is not working precisely here. The question "hinges" (pardon the pun!) around the clerk's choice of "would" for "will".
    The textbook sentence would be (and the conditional is okay here because I refer to a hypothetical sentence, not spoken by the clerk):
    "If we have it, it will be in aisle 14."
    He sincerely doesn't know whether the store has the item.
    Saying "If we had it" is a contrary-to-fact proposition, implying "I know that we don't have it." (I don't know the numbers that some people assign to different if-clauses.)
    So—why did he say "would"?
    I could simply say "In spoken language, the 'will'/'would' distinction is not strictly maintained." (And I would add "regardless of educational level".)
    Or I could speculate that "would" is considered a softer form of "will", for politeness.
    (P.S.: Bingo! I cross-posted with Glenfarclas, who agrees about politeness!)
     

    Sparky Malarky

    Moderator
    English - US
    Also, suppose he had walked with you to Aisle 14. You find the box where the hinges belong, but it's empty. Then he would say, "We're out. If we had any, they'd be here."
     

    sunyaer

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    The textbook rule is not working precisely here.
    ...
    "If we have it, it will be in aisle 14."

    So—why did he say "would"?
    I could simply say "In spoken language, the 'will'/'would' distinction is not strictly maintained." (And I would add "regardless of educational level".)
    Or I could speculate that "would" is considered a softer form of "will", for politeness.
    (P.S.: Bingo! I cross-posted with Glenfarclas, who agrees about politeness!)
    A parent is saying to his / her child:

    "If you get accepted by university this summer, I would give you a big award."

    Does this sentence work here with "would"? To me, it looks like it doesn't, doesn't it?


    In the OP context, I don't see "If we have it, it will be in aisle 14" is impolite. It's just that "will" indicates the strict arrangement of display in the store. Am I right?

    So the politeness connoted in "would" comes down to the fact that the clerk doesn't want to exclude any remote chance that the hinge might be displayed somewhere else without his knowledge. Is this understanding correct?
     
    Last edited:
    A parent is saying to his / her child:

    "If you get accepted by university this summer, I would give you a big award.":thumbsdown:

    Does this sentence work here with "would"? To me, it looks like it doesn't, doesn't it?:thumbsup:


    In the OP context, I don't see "If we have it, it will be in aisle 14" is impolite. :rolleyes:It's just that "will" indicates the strict arrangement of display in the store. Am I right?:rolleyes:

    So the politeness connoted in "would" comes down to the fact that the clerk doesn't want to exclude any remote chance that the hinge might be displayed somewhere else without his knowledge. Is this understanding correct?
    You're understanding is very good here, but I have a quibble: While it's true that tone of voice can also indicate politeness or lack of it, "would" to native ears most often does in fact sound more polite in many instances, so it's not strictly a question of dismissing that English reality by working out the logic of it all.

    For instance, I can imagine right now that a person saying "If we have it, it will be in aisle 14" is staring down at some papers, not even bothering to look me in the eye, dismissing me, suggesting I go look for it myself.

    I'm not saying that is the situation, just that my mind is prepared to think it is.

    "would be", even if said with the person not looking up at me sounds more helpful and guiding. (And I'm imagining that they did manage a quick look up at me, even so.)

    It's hard to explain such sound nuances, though. :)
     
    Last edited:

    Sparky Malarky

    Moderator
    English - US
    I don't think that "If we have it, it will be in aisle 14" is wrong or unnatural, or in any way impolite. Also, I don't think that "If we have it, it would be in aisle 14" is necessarily wrong. But I do think that all of us are putting a whole lot more thought into this than the clerk did when he answered he question.

    I believe his thought process was more like this: I'm not sure we stock that, but if we have it, someone would have put it in aisle 14.

    If he was certain he might have said: Yes we have that. It will be in aisle 14.

    If he was certain that they don't have it he might have said: We don't have that, but if we did it would be in aisle 14. Except that he wouldn't say that because what is the point of telling you where it would be if it's not there?

    What he's trying to say in very few words is: I don't know whether we have it or not. But if we do, aisle 14 is the place to look. And I think that "...it would be in aisle 14" adds the uncertainty that goes with "If we have it...."
     

    goldenband

    Senior Member
    English - American
    I think in English, a statement of certainty in response to a question can sometimes carry a whiff of rudeness, because it indirectly implies that the question is obvious and the asker is stupid for having asked. :) Putting the reply in the conditional -- or adding words like "I believe", "I'm sure", etc. -- helps to put the answerer on the same "team" as the questioner, i.e. both fallible mortals who need to ask things sometimes.

    @sunyaer: Your new sentence is incorrect. One of these would be correct, depending on the speaker's level of belief in the possibility of the child's acceptance:

    If you were to get accepted by university this summer, I would give you a big award.

    If you get accepted by university this summer, I will give you a big award.
     

    cissy3

    Senior Member
    English-England
    I wonder if there's a difference here between BrE and AE, as I don't find anything impolite with .:

    ''If we have it, it'll (will) be in aisle 14.''

    (Perhaps it's just me :))
     

    sunyaer

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    ...
    What he used here in the conditional is "have" rather than "had" while in the main clause is "would be". I guess the reason he didn't want to use "it will be in aisle 14" is that hinges might not be in aisle 14 even though the store carries the hinge I was asking about. I really see the need he formed this sentence to express what he was trying to say in an effective way in the context.
    ...
    What he's trying to say in very few words is: I don't know whether we have it or not. But if we do, aisle 14 is the place to look. And I think that "...it would be in aisle 14" adds the uncertainty that goes with "If we have it...."
    That's what I said in the OP.
     

    Cenzontle

    Senior Member
    English, U.S.
    "If you get accepted by university this summer, I would give you a big award."
    Does this sentence work here with "would"? To me, it looks like it doesn't, doesn't it?
    I agree, it seems anomalous. The if-clause seems to grant the possibility of acceptance, while the then-clause implies that the imagined acceptance is contrary to fact.
    I wonder if there's a difference here between BrE and AE, as I don't find anything impolite with .:
    ''If we have it, it'll (will) be in aisle 14.''
    (Perhaps it's just me :))
    No, no BE/AE difference, and nothing impolite about "will".
    But I think goldenband's observation (#8) about putting the answerer on the same team as the questioner may explain why we associate "would" with politeness.
    There are too many other factors (tone of voice, eye contact, etc.) to put the entire burden of polite/impolite on the will/would distinction.
    But I do think that all of us are putting a whole lot more thought into this than the clerk did when he answered the question.
    :thumbsup:
     
    < Previous | Next >
    Top