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Which is of the following sentence is correct?

If you sit here 10 minutes, I will tell the manager you have been here for an hour.

If you will sit here 10 minutes, I will tell the manager you have been here for an hour.

I always thought that the first sentence was preferable/more correct, but a friend of mine told me both are fine. Is there any difference between the two sentences? For example, are they used in different contexts?

6

Will is a complicated word. Calling will VERB “the future tense” is beginner's grammar which will not stand up in many contexts.

  • (In case you’re worried, I’m not going to open the contentious question of whether it’s permissible to call a periphrastic construction a ‘tense’.)

To begin with, it is not by a long shot the future tense; it is at most a future tense, alongside shall VERB, be going to VERB, and the simple present of VERB.

Next, will VERB does not necessarily mark a clause as having future reference. In many if .. then constructions (although not this one), it implies consequence, not subsequence, logical rather than temporal ‘following’:

If you add one to itself you will get three.
If he’s in Dallas he will be at the Ritz-Carleton.

In other cases will is employed in clauses which do have future reference, but the futurity is inherent in the proposition itself, not in the verbal construction. The if you will sit here is an instance: futurity is implied by for ten minutes, not by will, which is why the simple present is just as acceptable here.

In this particular case, will is used, in both if you will sit and I will tell, in its older sense of be willing.

If you are willing to wait here for ten minutes, I will* (consequential, not futurive!) be willing to tell the manager …

The same sense, with somewhat enhanced courtesy, may be expressed with a conditional past:

If you would sit here for ten minutes, I will tell the manager …

  • All true, but although you do use the word proposition in reference to the "will" version, I think Matt's answer more clearly emphasises that as the main difference between OP's two versions. #1 is really just a straightforward statement of consequences, but #2 is a proposition put forward for possible acceptance. Of course, in practice they're usually going to mean exactly the same thing, and I agree with OP's friend that they're both fine. – FumbleFingers Mar 13 '13 at 3:23
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The first is certainly more idiomatic of the form

if X happens, Y will happen.

where X is "you sit here for 10 minutes" and Y is "I will tell the manager you have been here for an hour".

The second one is not ungrammatical (it changes the meaning to emphasise that I will do Y if you will also do X), but it is certainly less idiomatic and less common.

The second form sounds much more like the speaker is proposing an offer that can be declined, i.e. "in exchange for you sitting here, I will tell the manager that you have been here for an hour".

The first form on the other hand sounds much more like an instruction coached in the politeness of a rhetorical question, i.e. "sit here for ten minutes, and then I will tell the manager that you have been here for an hour."

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There are some instances when using "will" in an "if" clause is acceptable, but that still is tricky. Even the times when it is acceptable it is a stretch and would still sound better leaving it out. Your first sentence sounds much better and sounds like you have a better grasp of the English language.

If you need to specifically signal the future tense in an "if" clause use the future continuous tense.

"If you are going to Italy, buy me a bottle of wine."

However, you should remember that you can also use the present simple tense in an "if" clause to signal the future.

"If you go to Italy, buy me a bottle of wine".

I suggest using the present simple tense in an "if" because it can signal both the present and the future - it can be much easier to use.

  • +1 for present simple tense...can be much easier to use – FumbleFingers Mar 13 '13 at 3:27
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to me it seems that there is a difference, that is if my hunch is right: "if you will sit" means the action hasn't started, whereas "if you sit" means that it might or might not have started.

  • Welcome to ELL! My opinion differs: either of these might properly be said to a person standing or sitting. – StoneyB Mar 8 '14 at 17:30

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