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Does B's reply sound natural in the following dialogue? Here, he is obviously denying he has an invisibility cloak to show he doesn't believe John has a Cadillac. Are there any constraints on this pattern? Some people say I should begin the main clause with "I am . . . " with this pattern to indicate absurdity. Is that necessary?

A: Did you know John owns a Cadillac?

B: If he owns a Cadillac, I own an invisibility cloak.

I am wondering whether there is a punchiness requirement on the main clause of this pattern.

Compare the following sentences:

  1. If that's Princess Anne, then I'm able to fly from Zurich to San Francisco in just under two hours and wenty minutes.
  1. If that’s Princess Anne, I’m a Dutchman.
  1. If John owns a Cadillac, I own an invisibility cloak.
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  • Please stop asking questions about whether something sounds natural. It boils down to editing.
    – Lambie
    Jul 24, 2020 at 20:26
  • Don't you see "Are there any constraints on this pattern"?
    – Apollyon
    Jul 25, 2020 at 1:46
  • Your inability to answer the question does not mean it is an inappropriate one.
    – Apollyon
    Jul 25, 2020 at 1:53
  • It's highly unlikely that anyone would use such a cumbersome comparison as your sentence 1. Jul 25, 2020 at 7:41
  • How do you feel about sentence 3?
    – Apollyon
    Jul 25, 2020 at 8:16

1 Answer 1

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The pattern is

if something possible, but not believed by the speaker, then something ridiculous, impossible, or obviously untrue

Examples:

If he has a university degree, (then) I'm a Dutchman (said by somebody not Dutch)

If that's a good paint job, (then) I'm a monkey's uncle.

If he owns a Cadillac, my name is Jesus J. Jones. (said by someone whose name is not that).

There is a similar pattern, where we wish to assert that something is, or will be found to be, true:

Statement believed to be true or something ridiculous, impossible, or obviously untrue

The main clause can be one also commonly used to indicate disbelief. Examples:

(I see a man in the distance) - that's John Smith, or I'm a Dutchman!

They'll be divorced in a year, or my name's not Michael Harvey.

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  • I'm wondering whether the main clause can use expressions other the ones you listed.
    – Apollyon
    Jul 25, 2020 at 1:45
  • Some people say I should begin the main clause with "I am . . . " with this pattern to indicate absurdity.
    – Apollyon
    Jul 25, 2020 at 2:41
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    Ah, I see. No, 'I am' is not essential. You could put something pithy, scurrilous or ridiculous as a main clause, e.g. If John owns a Cadillac, my name is Frank Fuck. Jul 25, 2020 at 8:29
  • 1
    If Joe Smith was a navy officer, Donald Trump has the Fields Medal. Jul 25, 2020 at 8:52
  • 1
    I would not take "If grannie is here, she is invisible" as an example of the pattern; it's simply saying “I cannot see her”. The pattern implies “Without specific evidence on the claim, I have other reasons to believe it is unlikely.” Jul 27, 2020 at 4:26

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