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https://www.scribbr.co.uk/verb/conditional-sentence/

If you think we are returning to those policies, then that is not going to happen.

Using the resource above, I cannot compare my example: then that is not going to happen. It doesn't stand as a complete sentence alone yet does work with the conditional clause attached.

You can remove 'then' and it works - That is not going to happen.

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  • From your link: "This is often paired with a ‘then’ at the start of the second clause (e.g., ‘if you want to go, then you should go’). However, including ‘then’ is optional." I'm not sure exactly what's confusing you; can you edit to explain more? Commented Apr 3 at 21:25
  • Note, the sentence itself doesn't make logical sense, but is a pattern that happens often in casual speech. Obviously "that is not going to happen" no matter what "you think"; it's not as if it will happen if you think something different. But the sentence means "If you think this, [I should inform you that] it is not going to happen." This happens often enough, as people start their sentence before knowing exactly how they will finish it. Commented Apr 3 at 21:27
  • Then is the least of it.
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 3 at 22:16

2 Answers 2

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You're right, removing 'then' does work. In fact, the sentence seems wrong as it is.

If this, then that is a typical conditional sentence. If one thing happens, then something else will happen as a consequence.

Your example as written makes it sound as if the thought is the condition that will cause the given outcome, which seems wrong. If the person doesn't think it, will it then happen?

Your suggestion of removing the word "then" creates a commonly heard construction that loosely resembles a conditional sentence, but is not expressing a condition in the traditional sense. Instead, it's a way of addressing or confronting someone's belief or assumption. Rather than presenting a hypothetical condition and its consequence, it presents a perceived belief or assumption and its rebuttal or correction.

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  • You're saying it isn't conditional?
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 3 at 22:17
  • I'm saying it looks like a conditional statement, but I don't think it's meant to be. Because, if it is, what's the condition? If you think this is going to happen then it won't? That's like don't believe in ghosts, otherwise they will get you.
    – Astralbee
    Commented Apr 3 at 22:20
  • Frankly, I don't see how it can't be conditional. If you think the sky is green, then, that is what you think.
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 3 at 22:22
  • @Lambie but that isn't what it is like at all. It's more like if you think the sky is green, it's not, it's blue. Add the word "then" into it and it makes it sound like the sky being blue is a consequence of you thinking that it's green. It's not a conditional statement, its a rebuttal.
    – Astralbee
    Commented Apr 3 at 22:23
  • Come on now Astralbee: the word then is a discourse marker: oh, well, now, then, you know, and I mean, And "that" refers to a previous referent in the conversation. If you think we are returning to those policies, then, that [result] is not going to happen.
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 4 at 13:33
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If you think we are returning to those policies, then that is not going to happen.

The practical meaning of this kind of utterance is

I'm not going to assume that you think we are returning to those policies, but if you are, bear in mind that is not going to happen.

It is just as much a statement about the speaker and the listener as it is a statement about some situation at large.

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