0

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.
  • Please stop asking questions about whether something sounds natural. It boils down to editing. – Lambie Jul 24 at 20:26
  • Don't you see "Are there any constraints on this pattern"? – Apollyon Jul 25 at 1:46
  • Your inability to answer the question does not mean it is an inappropriate one. – Apollyon Jul 25 at 1:53
  • It's highly unlikely that anyone would use such a cumbersome comparison as your sentence 1. – Kate Bunting Jul 25 at 7:41
  • How do you feel about sentence 3? – Apollyon Jul 25 at 8:16
4

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.

| improve this answer | |
  • I'm wondering whether the main clause can use expressions other the ones you listed. – Apollyon Jul 25 at 1:45
  • Some people say I should begin the main clause with "I am . . . " with this pattern to indicate absurdity. – Apollyon Jul 25 at 2:41
  • 1
    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. – Michael Harvey Jul 25 at 8:29
  • 1
    If Joe Smith was a navy officer, Donald Trump has the Fields Medal. – Michael Harvey Jul 25 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.” – Anton Sherwood Jul 27 at 4:26

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.