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Is this sentence grammatically correct:

Is it twice as much, (then) we call it 2 G.

with or without the "then"?

In a comment thread on another SE site I was corrected on a detail as a grammatical error. The sentence should rather be:

If it is twice as much, (then) we call it 2 G.

The point apparently is that starting a sentence with "Is" (or "Are") requires a question mark at the end - which I don't have, since the sentence answers itself.

I am not native English but was very surprised by this correction. I tend to use that structure often to shorten a sentence as much as possible.

So, I'd like a second view on this from the English SE site to be 100 % convinced. Is the sentence structure "Is it ..., then ..." incorrect and should rather be "If it is ..., then ..."?

migrated from english.stackexchange.com Jan 25 '17 at 13:39

This question came from our site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts.

  • @FumbleFingers You may be right. For lack of a question mark, I thought it a matter of forming conditionals not of forming questions. – tchrist Jan 25 '17 at 13:34
  • @tchrist♦: Well, it comes down to much the same thing in context. If you know how the structure of questions differs from that of statements, it then becomes just a matter of knowing that what follows if should be in the form of a statement, not a question. – FumbleFingers Jan 25 '17 at 13:37
  • @FumbleFingers I see. It is basicly a question arising from the differences between languages. In my native mothertongue, the sentence I tried to form works fine. But maybe not in English. So I believe it is indeed a language learner issue. (A bit odd to be migrated to another site, where I didn't have a user-account - but that's a general SE issue, of course) – Steeven Jan 25 '17 at 13:52
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    @Steeven: The fact that in your language things work differently is all the more reason why the question should be on ELL. People here might well have better insights into how to succinctly summarise the differences. Sometimes it's more helpful to have things explained by people who understand the problem from your perspective, rather than simply trotting out the "rules" of English which may be a bit "alien" and hard to grasp if they're just presented in isolation, without reference to how they might differ from what you're already familiar with. – FumbleFingers Jan 25 '17 at 14:40
  • Re the matter of "deleting" initial if introducing a conditional clause, my first thought was Rory Breaker in Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, but it turns out he includes it every time: If you hold back anything i'll kill ya. If you bend the truth, or I think you're bending the truth i'll kill ya. If you forget anything i'll kill ya. In fact you are going to have to work very hard to stay alive, Nick. There is one example later though, when a barman tells Bacon: You want a pint, go to the pub. – FumbleFingers Jan 25 '17 at 14:52
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Your first clause is using inversion without the word if. You can only do that to form conditionals if you use subjunctive inversion, which you are not doing here.

  1. *Is it twice as much, (then) we call it 2 G. [wrong]
  2. If it is twice as much, (then) we call it 2 G. [right]
  3. If it were twice as much, (then) we would call it 2 G. [also right]
  4. Were it twice as much, (then) we would call it 2 G. [also right]

Only the last version there permits you to forgo the if by virtue of using subjunctive inversion.

There are many other ways to form conditionals, but what you have written is not one of them.

  • Thank you very much. Can I replace "were" with "was" in sentence 4? So that it basicly is the same sentence, just in past tense? – Steeven Jan 25 '17 at 13:55
  • @Steeven No, not really, because subjunctive inversion is an old-fashioned way of phrasing it, and so you really must use the actual "unreal/hypothetical" form there, not the casual past. – tchrist Jan 25 '17 at 13:59
  • Aha. That's a surprise for me and very good to know. May I ask what exactly the word "were" does here? What does it means and do? Is it just an old-fashioned traditional way of writing of historical reasons, which has stayed alive? – Steeven Jan 25 '17 at 14:04
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    @Steeven The use of were as a hypothetical is sometimes called the “imperfect subjunctive” in diachronic analysis (because that is indeed what it was in Old English), and sometimes called the “irrealis” (=unreal) form in synchronic analysis (which is the kind that pretends there a language has no history). This form is now limited to a few hypothetical situations like if something were, unless something were, I wish it were and things like that. The subjunctive inversion case for conditionals is still used formally, as well as in frozen refrains like come hell or high water, we'll win. – tchrist Jan 25 '17 at 14:28

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