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I have an issue with a conditional clause, which is quite an unfamiliar experience for me. :)

Here's my first try (or something very close to it):

  • "If it would not be possible to do X after doing Y, doing Y will fail."

But is this really an acceptable use of "would" in an if-clause?

I thought about alternatives using the standard form of conditionals:

  • "If it is not possible to do X after doing Y, doing Y will fail." - This seems the most natural, but it doesn't convey the hypothetical nature of doing Y.
  • "If it were not possible to do X after doing Y, doing Y would fail." - This feels completely off.
  • Type 3 clearly doesn't fit.

How do I adequately (and grammatically) convey that Y will not be done if (and only if) X becomes impossible after doing Y?

edit: I see from the answers and comments that it was a mistake to simplify the sample the way I did, and that context is missing. :)

So here's the full context: I'm documenting code, namely a function deleting users from a database. The sentence is about lockout prevention.

  • "If it would not be possible to execute foo() after deleting the user (due to the user being the last admin user), deletion will fail."
  • Is the success of Y a necessary requirement for X? – Michael Harvey Jun 22 at 17:16
  • Please provide real-word examples of what you're talking about. If it would not be possible to grow wings after eating chicken, eating chicken will fail. That's not strictly ungrammatical, but it's somewhat nonsensical as well as awkward. Also, there are many more types of conditional statement than can be squeezed into the imprecise and limiting classification model. – Jason Bassford Jun 22 at 17:19
  • Please see the edit for additional context. Still being able to do X is a necessary requirement for Y. Y is in no way a requirement for X. :) – m_l Jun 22 at 19:27
  • If you want to write a polite request for a supervisor in some internet net, I will recommend you to write it with some personal pronoun If you would execute foo() after deleting the user... , the deletion would be successful. – kngram Jun 22 at 20:21
  • @kngram If I were you, I would stop giving inaccurate advice full of English mistakes. – Lambie Jun 22 at 21:55
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Samples taken from question: "If it would not be possible to do X after doing Y, doing Y will fail."= That is not grammatical in English. If cannot be followed by would in most circumstances.

"If it is not possible to do X after doing Y, doing Y will fail." - [OK but awkward and yes, it is hypothetical. See below for the two types of ways to express a possibility when speaking or writing in a present time.]

"If it was not possible to do X after doing Y, doing Y would fail." - [It's actually fine.]


Better (or more idiomatic) grammar is:

  • If doing X after doing Y is not possible, doing Y will fail.

  • If doing X after doing Y were [or was] not possible, doing Y would fail. [Nothing here has been done!]

An easier sample sentence: If he was or were rich, he would be unhappy.

And what you are calling Type 3 is a past hypothetical event:

  • If doing x after doing y had not been possible, doing Y would have failed.

But it was possible, so it did not fail.

Please bear in mind: There are two possible conditionals spoken at a present time, each of which has a different emphasis regarding possibility and probability:

  • If you go, you will see him. [You will possibly go.]
  • If you went, you would see him. [not likely that you will go: less probable than the first sentence.]

The only difference between them is the likelihood of the action.

Also, please bear in mind that was or were can be used for the verb be in expressing the "second type of condition": If it were or was possible, I would do it.

| improve this answer | |
  • Thanks for your answer. "Type 3" is out exactly because it describes a past event, yeah. I quite like the second of your more idiomatic proposals. "If executing foo() were not possible after deletion, deletion would fail." (See edited question for context.) The "would fail" part still seems a little off to me, but I guess my feeling is mistaken here. :) – m_l Jun 22 at 19:34
  • @m_l Please listen to me: Your would is not grammatical. It should be like this: "If it is not possible to execute foo() after deleting the user (due to the user being the last admin user), deletion will fail." As a coder, you might want to follow the rules I have provided. :) Last time: if it would is not grammatical in contexts like yours. – Lambie Jun 22 at 20:03
  • Yes, I suspected as much. It's right in the question (as a suspicion rather than a fact): "But is this really an acceptable use of "would" in an if-clause?" The would fail part that still feels a little off to me is the "deletion would fail" in the "type 2" sentence, not the ungrammatical "If it would". I fully understood that one. The one thing I'm not sure about are the acceptable uses of "would" in an if clause, but that is beyond the scope of this question. – m_l Jun 22 at 20:41
  • Last question: In the given context you prefer the "more probable" statement, right? While meeting the condition shouldn't be common in day to day use, it is still very possible. So, as you write, "If it is not possible to execute foo() after deleting the user, deletion will fail." rather than "If it were not possible to execute foo() after deleting the user, deletion would fail." – m_l Jun 22 at 20:55
  • is//will fail VERSUS was/were//would fail. No doubt about it. Try to internalize it. – Lambie Jun 22 at 21:53
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Your example is contradictory.

If Y then X. if not X then not Y => if X then Y. The contradiction is that it is a tautology. The sentence that has no logic within for a practical speech act.

The grammar construction of the kind if it would is an informal expression evidently. But, the sentence contains, as it seems, an example from the propositional logic theory. Such coincidence is impossible in any case on practice.

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  • ))) If you don't know either it is ungrammatical or informal, don't hurry with conclusions, be calm and look into another comments on the page above. – kngram Jun 22 at 19:04
  • Don't argue on it. It's fraught with some consequences for your image, at least on the page. – kngram Jun 22 at 19:24
  • And, don't erase your high school-level comments, if you dare to write them here. This is indecent. – kngram Jun 23 at 6:54

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