If you'll pick up some snacks, I'll get the beer.

In this sentence there is used the volitive "will" as I was thought by StoneyB in his exhaustive reply to my latest question here ("Would" in a backshifted reported context). This sentence can be paraphrased in this way: "If you are willing to take care of getting snacks, I am willing to reciprocate by providing the beer". But I am not able to see the difference between this sentence and the standard conditional clause, i.e. "If you pick up some snacks, I'll get the beer". Every conditional clause after all includes a reciprocal aspect. Can you please give me some other examples ot the volitive "will" in the sentence.

  • I think in "if you pick up some snacks..." you have a clear sequence of events. The first "pick up" is in Present Indefinite tense, which denotes "past in the future". First the snacks are picked up, then the beer. You essentially say "I need to see the snacks before I act on my promise (about the beer)". The "will - will" sentence has no sequencing. Oct 6, 2015 at 11:55
  • here? where? Link is missing.
    – Maulik V
    Oct 6, 2015 at 11:57
  • "If you will lie back and stop screaming for novocaine, I can finish this root canal" .
    – TimR
    Oct 6, 2015 at 12:43

1 Answer 1


There is no practical difference between "If you pick up the snacks, I'll pick up the beer" and "If you will pick up . . .".

But in other contexts will is prohibited in IF clauses.

If line power ∗will drop, the system will switch to battery power. ... This must be expressed as
If line power drops, the system will switch to battery power.

If you ∗will touch that knife I will shoot you. ... This must be expressed as
If you touch that knife I will shoot you.

There are three circumstances in which will is permitted in IF clauses:

  • When will bears a volitive sense, "be willing". If you will slice the pie, I'll get forks.
  • When will bears a habitual sense, "make a practice of". If you will tease the cat you must expect to be scratched.
  • When the clause accepts a future event as certain. If (as you tell us) the auditors will be here on Tuesday, we'd better clean up the books.
  • I tried to think of a counter-example when the subject is a person, but I couldn't come up with one. Many thanks for If you touch that knife! Oct 6, 2015 at 13:23
  • The OP's example, "if you will pick up some snacks, I'll get the beer", then, falls under your first "circumstance", yes? Is it customary then to avoid contracting "will"? Oct 6, 2015 at 13:27
  • @VictorBazarov 1) Yes. 2) No, except that in the use of habitual will in the cat sentence will must be strongly stressed. I wrote these wills out for pedagogic clarity. Oct 6, 2015 at 13:35
  • Note also that the habitual sense (teasing the cat) is British usage. Oct 6, 2015 at 14:00
  • @G.Ann-SonarSourceTeam Exclusively? My mother would have been surprised to hear that! Oct 6, 2015 at 14:13

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