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Say I have this sentence.

I threw a ball to the inside of a basket. If outside, it would hit the grass.

I am wondering if the "If outside" is grammatically correct.

Maybe it will be "If threw outside" or something.

Any advice? Thanks in advance.

  • I don't understand what "I threw a ball to the inside of a basket" is meant to mean. Can you rephrase? Do you mean "I threw a ball into a basket?" – starsplusplus Feb 20 '14 at 15:12
  • the point isn't about the meaning. I was writing something up to see if the clause "If outside" is correct. – tipsywacky Feb 20 '14 at 15:39
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    "If outside" is grammatical, but I don't think it works in this particular example. – snailboat Feb 20 '14 at 15:41
  • If you tell us the meaning we can help correct your English. If we don't know what you're trying to say we can't suggest alternatives. – starsplusplus Feb 20 '14 at 15:42
  • I just want to know "If outside" is grammatical, the context is irrelevant. – tipsywacky Feb 21 '14 at 2:25
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I don't think either sentence is grammatically incorrect, but neither is idiomatic. Try these instead:

I threw a ball into the basket. If I had thrown the ball outside the basket, it would have landed in the grass.

The second sentence might be even clearer by saying, "If I had missed the basket, the ball would have landed in the grass."

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There is a lot of ambiguity about that second sentence. And although the context would make it hard to argue convincingly for an interpretation other than what you intend, still it makes it harder than necessary for the reader. So when you write:

If outside, it would hit the grass.

presumably what you are saying is:

If the ball was thrown such that it landed outside the basket, (then) the ball would hit the grass

But part of the reader's brain may be wondering if what you actually meant was:

If the ball was thrown while the thrower was outside the basket, (then) the ball would hit the grass

or

If the ball was thrown while the thrower was outdoors , (then) the ball would hit the grass

or even (because strictly speaking you've left it open as to what "it" refers to):

If the ball was thrown while the thrower was outdoors , (then) the basket would hit the grass

As I say, not much more than a moment's thought would show that only your actual meaning makes sense. But, still, you're creating some cognitive dissonance and as a result making your meaning less clear than it could be.

The formulation suggested by @semperos is much clearer (on both sentences), and that or something similar is to be preferred.

A further thought is that the phrasing may depend on exactly what kind of basket it is. At first reading, I envisaged a basketball "basket" -- i.e. one without a bottom. But that's probably not the case, given that the implication is the ball hits the grass only if it misses the basket. In a basketball basket, the ball falls through so would hit the "grass" even if you scored. Yes?

Which leads on to considering the various ways one may talk about throwing a ball with respect to a basket. We have:

I threw a ball:

  • into the basket (the ball went in)
  • in the basket (ditto -- although this form could suggest that it's a huge basket, you are in the basket, and you are throwing the ball while you're in there)
  • through the basket (only for a basketball-style basket -- unless you throw really hard, or the basket is made of rice paper)

And you could also have:

  • at the basket (allows for it missing the basket)
  • near the basket (a near miss, possibly on purpose)
  • to the outside of the basket (a near miss, probably on purpose)
  • just to the outside of the basket (an even nearer miss)
  • away from the basket (a clear miss)
  • well away from the basket (an even clearer miss)

But in fact it may be less common to hear the simple:

  • outside the basket

If it were used, it would be a combination of the "near the" and "away from" forms; that is, it would leave it open as to how close it actually came, and whether the thrower intended to miss.

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