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I have a question about can vs could in the IF clause.

  1. If you could contact us directly, it would be helpful.

  2. If you can contact us directly, it will be helpful.

Which one do you think is better?

I think since this situation is not impossible, the second one would be correct, but all of my American friends chose the first one because it’s more polite.

I know could/ would are more polite than can/ will, but because of “if”, I think the first may sound unreal as “if I were a bird, I would...”.

Could you please explain this?

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You hit on the answer exactly when you notice that could seems unreal.

It is more polite to use could in this context because making a request with could instead of can conveys the idea that it may not be possible (it may be unreal) for the respondent to comply!

If we spell out the meaning plainly, it goes something like this:

I know that it might not be possible, but if it is possible, can you ... ?

Compare this to:

Will you ... or will you refuse to (because, for example, you don't want to help me)?

2
  • If you could contact us directly, it would be helpful.

  • If you can contact us directly, it will be helpful.

Both these sentences are right. They mean slightly different things.

The first implies there might be some reason the person cannot do so. It is also viewed as more polite.

The second is just more direct and is not marked as "polite".

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