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  1. My parents would kill me if they found out.
  2. My parents will kill me if they find out.

Are they both correct or is only one of them correct?

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Your first example:

My parents would kill me if they found out.

Is the second conditional and describes things that you don't think will really happen. It's subjective; it depends on your point of view.

The second example:

My parents will kill me if they find out.

Is the first conditional and describes things that you think are likely to happen in the future.

Both are grammatically correct.

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  • +1, but I disagree that "my parents will kill me if they find out" means it is likely that they will find out. It is more likely than with the "would" construction, but that's about all you can say -- it could be very unlikely in either scenario. – hunter Jun 3 '14 at 13:07
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    The action that is in doubt is that they will kill you. If they will kill you, then it is certain, or you are representing it as certain, they will kill you if they find out. The thing is, changing will to would doesn't really change the nature of things, apart from adding a bit of uncertainty to the probability that they will kill you. In both cases, neither sentence comments on the likelihood of them finding out - they merely describe what could or would occur in the event that they do. – jimsug Jun 3 '14 at 13:43
  • I think that 99% of the time when people make a statement like this, it's exaggeration. Whatever the odds of your parents finding out, they probably won't literally kill you – except for in a few extreme cases. – Jay Jun 3 '14 at 13:44
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I have to disagree with the OP's comments given in the other answer: "The action that is in doubt is that they will kill you."

First, they are both grammatically correct. One way of interpreting this is simply a matter of how emphatic or how much emotion (fear) you want to convey.

Certainty level: Also, "will" indicates a higher sense of certainty than "would". While it's technically/syntactically correct to say that "will" and "would" emphasize the certainty of "kill", that is not how I (native speaker) interpret this.

What is in doubt? I can imagine scenarios in which this is said, and to me, it seems that "would" and "will" are indicating the amount of fear the person has related to the possibility that their parents found out whatever bad thing they did. This could be related to how severe the punishment would be (will/would modifying "kill"), but it also could be related to how likely the parents are to find out. (will/would modifying "find/found out").

A more holistic interpretation. As I see it, it's not just "kill" that is being used metaphorically. Perhaps the entire sentence is idiomatic, expressing the person's relationship with their parents, and the fear they have about the possible repercussion.1 Both severity and probability of being found out are considered. It's probably just too redundant/clumsy to have a "probability emphasis" on both "kill" and "found out".

Example. For example, take the situation where there are very strict parents, but they're away for a week and left their teenager home. The teenager has a buddy come over and they do something that the parents would be upset about, yet the teenager feels very confident that they will never find out. One could hear something like, "My parents would kill me if they knew what I was doing. That's how they are. They are very strict." The question here is not the certainty of being punished severely -- that is absolutely certain in the teenager's mind. The point is that if they did find out (which they almost surely will not), the punishment would be severe.

1. While I feel confident in this answer, I'm not sure if "the entire sentence is idiomatic" is the precise explanation for this situation. Any helpful comments on this issue would be appreciated!

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They are both correct, BUT they do not have the same meaning.

My parents would kill me if they found out.

This is a subjunctive mood, meaning the consequence (the parents killing the child) is unclear, not proven, not true, imaginary, and doubtful.

Furthermore, it is very unclear whether or not the subject of the sentence (the child) has actually done anything to warrant that consequence ^^

My parents will kill me if they find out.

By using the future tense, we know already that the subject of the sentence has done something already, or at least it is what we can assume since there is a conditional portion to this sentence.

If they find out

This makes the consequence very clear, true, concrete, et cetera...

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