What is the meaning of following sentence?

Is "if they could" a conditional ?

It was about this time that Professor William Crookes conducted his inquiries into the medium's powers, and issued that whole-hearted report which is dealt with later when Crookes's early connexion with Spiritualism comes to be discussed. These careful observations show that the rappings constituted only a small part of Kate Fox's psychic powers, and that if they could be adequately explained by normal means they would still leave us amid mysteries. Thus Crookes recounts how, when the only people present besides himself and Miss Fox were his wife and a lady relative "I was holding the medium's two hands in one of mine, while her feet were resting on my feet. Paper was on the table before us, and my disengaged hand was holding a pencil.

from http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks03/0301051h.html

1 Answer 1


All "if" statements are conditional, but there a few quite distinct contexts in which you might say something like "if they could".

Many "if" statements are straightforward "if x is true, then y is true". For example:

If it rains, we will get wet.

However, consider this example:

If kids were given scissors they could cut their own hair.

Like the previous example, if the first statement is true, then the second statement is also true. However - would you want kids to have scissors and cut their own hair? Probably not! So in this context, it isn't that x can either be true or false - whether kids have access to scissors. Rather, it is a statement about the consequences of x being allowed.

Your example is saying that if certain details could be explained (and there is no comment on wether they can or cannot), there would still be other details that would remain unexplained, and there would still be "mysteries".

Often when making statements like this, where the concluding statement is negative or intangible, we would say "even if", rather than simply "if", for example:

We only have 9 players for our team. If Tom arrives, we will have 10.

We only have 9 players for our team. Even if Tom arrives, we will not have 11.

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