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I am wondering whether "would" in the following sentence is correct:

If John should lie to me, I would no longer talk to him.

How does the above differ from

If John should lie to me, I will no longer talk to him?

I'd appreciate your help.

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  • Would is not acceptable in these if clauses, see TFD, usage note. – Lucian Sava Jan 16 '18 at 23:23
  • This question has already been answered here: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/46543/… – Gustavson Jan 17 '18 at 1:37
  • @LucianSava Your source does not say that "would" is not acceptable. It only explains it does not work in the same way as "should" does. However, your link does contain some interesting examples of should in the condition with future in the result: In certain clauses, should is used for all three persons: If I (or you or he) should decide to go, we will need a larger car. If it should begin to snow, we will stay here tonight. – Gustavson Jan 17 '18 at 1:41
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Note that shall and should used in this way are a bit old-fashioned.

Let's start of with a simple conditional,

If John lies to me, I will no longer talk to him

The first verb is present tense and the the second is in the future tense. This is a general truth about a situation that could happen: if John ever lies to you, that's what will happen in the future.

If John shall lie to me, I will no longer talk to him

This rather old-fashioned sentence means that, if at some time in the future John does lie to you, and this is a situation that could happen, you will not speak to him from that moment on.

If John should lie to me, I would no longer talk to him

If you want to talk about a hypothetical situation, you backshift the tenses of both verbs: shall becomes should and will becomes would. This sentence therefore means that, in the unlikely event that John lies to you at some time in the future, you will not speak to him from that moment on.

For a hypothetical situation, you have to backshift both verbs. Your first sentence is therefore correct: the second sentence is not, because should is backshifted and will is not.

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    I understand your reasoning, but even if "should" adds uncertainty to the condition, I think we can still find future (will) instead of conditional (would) in the result. – Gustavson Jan 17 '18 at 0:20
  • @Gustavson, can you provide links to examples of this? – JavaLatte Jan 17 '18 at 0:37
  • Certainly. See, for example, this page in Otto Jesperpersen's A Modern English Grammar: books.google.com.ar/… . At the bottom of the page, we can read: Papa will recover from his grief; and if he should, I will tell him. More links and examples will follow. – Gustavson Jan 17 '18 at 1:02
  • In English Grammar: A University Course by Angela Downing (books.google.com.ar/…) we can find in example (18) that "should" can combine with "can" (not necessarily with "could"): Should you decide to come to the concert, we can meet at the concert hall. – Gustavson Jan 17 '18 at 1:06
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    You don't accept Otto Jespersen as an authority in English grammar? Discussion closed. – Gustavson Jan 17 '18 at 1:13

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