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The following is taken from PEU1 260.2:

'If it is true now that...'

We use will with if when we are saying ‘if it is true now that. . or ‘if we know now that..

If Ann won’t be here on Thursday, we'd better cancel the meeting.

If prices will really come down in a few months, I'm not going to buy one now.

But I don't quite understand how these two examples are different from the following:

If Ann isn't here on Thursday, we'd better cancel the meeting.

If prices really come down in a few months, I'm not going to buy one now.

Any semantic difference implied?

And I think the first example in PEU could also be interpreted as "if Ann refuses to come here on Thursday, we'd better cancel the meeting". I think it's ambiguous. What do you think of it?

1. PEU = Michael Swan's, Practical English Usage.

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In both of the book's examples, the sentence is talking about how a future consideration (that is, the expectation that a particular event will happen) affects your actions in the present.

Sentence 1 says "We know today that Ann will not be here on Thursday, so we should cancel the meeting now."

In your recasting 1, the sentence is about how a possible action in the future affects your action in the future: "If we discover on Thursday that Ann is not here, we should cancel the meeting [on Thursday, as soon as we know that Ann is not here]."

Sentence 2 says "If I believe today that prices will be lower in a few months, then I will choose not to make a purchase today."

In your recasting 2, there is a disconnect because you are talking about taking an action now in response to an action that happens in the future, which is of course impossible: "If I find out in a few months that prices are lower than they were today, then I will choose not to make a purchase today."

As to your secondary question, it's true that the statement given leaves some ambiguity about the reason for Ann's absence. However, the usage of the more passive "won't be here" implies inability over refusal (as in, she may have a prior commitment that she can't get out of, or her boss said she isn't allowed to travel, or any other factor that she is not in control of). If it used the more active "won't come", that implies that she had the choice of showing up or not, and chose not to.

  • So this type of if-clause in PEU doesn't refer to a possiblity or contingency, but a fact? – Kinzle B Jul 2 '14 at 16:12
  • You could consider it as a contingency that you are preparing for, instead of one that you are merely planning for. The difference being "I am doing Y now in case X happens later" [preparation] instead of "If X happens later, I will do Y (after X happens)" [planning]. – Hellion Jul 2 '14 at 16:18
  • What kind of will it is here? deontic, epistemic, or other? – Kinzle B Jul 2 '14 at 16:26
  • It might make more sense to break up "epistemic will" into subjunctive vs. indicative, ZZ. The truly common phrasings are "If X will" and "If X would/should." "Will" implies knowledge of the future in this case, where "would" merely implies the possibility (and "should" denotes deontic, as you note). The examples of present-tense verbs you give are a little odd, and differ from each other. The Ann sentence implies "then [at that time, when we discover that Ann is here] we should cancel the meeting." "If prices come down" seems to assume that time travel is an option. – wordsmythe Jul 2 '14 at 16:51
  • Seems to me it's good old future will, since either sentence could use be going to without a change in meaning. If Ann isn't going to be here on Thursday... and If prices are really going to come down... Of course, be going to is really present tense, but in English there is no real future tense, just ways of refering to future time. – Alan Carmack Jul 16 '16 at 12:49

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