How do we make sense of the boldfaced if-clause? It's at odds with the traditional conception of conditional sentences, which would require a matching main clause containing "would," 'could," etc. But there's none here.

The resultant product has “visco-elastic properties” — meaning that it behaves like a liquid or a solid depending on the level of the force applied. Think of a fun-sized liquid metal T-1000 from “Terminator 2,” if it was built to help rather than harm.

Source: https://nypost.com/2022/04/04/robot-slime-magnet-could-save-lives-by-searching-our-insides/

  • It makes sense if you delete "if it was". Aug 12, 2022 at 3:16
  • @OldBrixtonian Thank you. Do you mean the original is poorly written?
    – Apollyon
    Aug 12, 2022 at 3:31
  • 1
    I haven't seen 'Terminator 2', but the sentence asks you to imagine what a 'fun-sized' T-1000 would be like if it was intended to be helpful rather than harmful. Aug 12, 2022 at 7:31
  • @KateBunting That makes a lot more sense.
    – Apollyon
    Aug 12, 2022 at 7:47
  • Yeah; it's just a way of saying "imagine [something familiar/known], but [with these distinctions]". The "if it was" plays the role of "but" or "except". So, "imagine a [T-1000, a ruthless killing machine, sometimes having a solid shape, sometimes appearing as a liquid], except [it's not a killing machine]. Aug 12, 2022 at 8:53

1 Answer 1


In my opinion, it is not a particularly well written sentence, but there is nothing wrong with attaching a conditional to an imperative clause.

Don’t marry him if you don’t love him.

Avoid a dog if it is growling.

We do not add modals to imperatives.

  • The issue is the counterfactual if-clause. Your examples are normal because their if-clauses are not counterfactual. But the OP sentence is different.
    – Apollyon
    Aug 12, 2022 at 5:04
  • @Apollyon If an assertion is factual if it is not normally preceded by “if.” There is no way to determine whether my examples are factual or hypothetical. There is no special rule for imperatives based on a counter-factual. “Be sure to take a photo if you see a blue unicorn.” I do not like the quoted sentence as written, but the absence of “would” heading an imperative verb is acceptable and does not interfere with classifying the subordinate clause as a conditional clause. Aug 12, 2022 at 20:56
  • The opposite of "counterfactual" in English grammar is not "factual," but rather "possible." There might be no rules prohibiting imperatives joined by a counterfactual in standard reference works, but native speakers seem to have qualms about such sentences.
    – Apollyon
    Aug 13, 2022 at 3:59
  • That goes to show there is an implicit "rule" in your mental grammar that prohibits them.
    – Apollyon
    Aug 13, 2022 at 4:00
  • Those who feel there's nothing wrong about the OP sentence actually map "a fun-sized liquid metal T-1000 from Terminator 2" onto the clause, "what a 'fun-sized' T-1000 would be like." And the clause fits perfectly with "if it was built to help rather than harm."
    – Apollyon
    Aug 13, 2022 at 4:02

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