We speak English if/when a guest is in the house.

GeogeHalin

Senior Member
Japanese
Hello members,

Suppose you and your family are a host family, and you host students. You host one student at a time, and your home language is not English but another language, you speak it with your family, but when the student is home, you all speak English.

Would you say,
"We speak English if a guest is in the house."
or
"We speak English when a guest is in the house."
??

Are they both right??
Are there any differences?

I think 'when' is better and 'if' just sounds wrong to me.

Thank you very much!
 
  • PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    It is not "We speak English when a guest is in the house.", it is "We speak English whenever a guest is in the house." -> in this sense, if and whenever are the same.
     

    Truffula

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    I would say "We speak English if a guest is in the house" only if there's no guest around at the time. It's a general statement of what you do, and it acknowledges that there might not be another guest for an indefinite amount of time. This version would be especially appropriate if it is the host family explaining what to do to another family who is considering being a host, but not sure.

    I would agree with Geoge that "We speak English when a guest is in the house" is more natural in more situations. It's the only one I'd use of the three versions I would use if the student were actually home and we were speaking English at the moment, or should be. I would also use it as an equivalent for the other two sometimes.

    I somewhat agree with PaulQ in that I would use "We speak English whenever a guest is in the house" as an equivalent for the version using "if." But I would also use the version with "when" for this purpose from time to time, even though it is not as exact a match. I disagree with him when he says it is not that way...

    In other contexts, the main controlling thing as to which one you use is the frequency you expect it to happen. Use only "if" for things you hope never happen, or that may happen but also may not. Use "when" or "whenever" for things that definitely will happen, have happened, happen often, or are confidently expected to happen. "Whenever" tends to connote something that is a rule or a known result, whereas "when" tends to connote something that happens simultaneously.

    If you have access to a useful search engine of English text, try searching for the three phrases:
    "when a guest"
    "if a guest"
    "whenever a guest"
    and read over the sentences where each one appears. This will give you a more full sense of how each is used, and how often they are interchangeable as to meaning.
     
    Last edited:

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    I'm more in agreement with PaulQ perhaps. I regard all of these as equivalent and correct:

    We speak English if there is a guest in the house.
    We speak English when there is a guest in the house.
    We speak English whenever there is a guest in the house. (It implies that this may happen fairly frequently.)
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    For me "if", "when", and "whenever" in this context retain their usual meanings. "Whenever" means "at any time", "when" means "during the time" (or possibly "since"), and "if" means "under circumstances in which".
     

    djmc

    Senior Member
    English - United Kingdom
    One can use both particularly if one regards the event as unlikely. "If and when I see the pigs flying then I agree that it would be a good idea to use geese to round them up".
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    My post #2 was intended to make the distinction between when (= at the time that); whenever (on all occasions that) and if (introducing a conditional or unreal clause.) (See also Foraro at #6).
     

    sinukg

    Senior Member
    Malayalam
    I'm more in agreement with PaulQ perhaps. I regard all of these as equivalent and correct:

    We speak English if there is a guest in the house.
    We speak English when there is a guest in the house.
    We speak English whenever there is a guest in the house. (It implies that this may happen fairly frequently.)
    As a non-native speaker I tend to say "We speak English if there is a guest in the house." Thank You.
     
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