1

Here's a hypothetical scenario:

When you become a soldier, you will fight in wars.

Does this imply that the person in question will become a soldier; must I use "if you become"?

1

When you become a soldier, you will fight in wars.

This indicates you will become a soldier at some point in time.

If you become a soldier, you will fight in wars.

This is conditional. It does not say you will become a soldier, but if you do, you will fight in wars.

This ELL post may help: When are 'if' and 'when' interchangeable?

  • Hi, user3169. I don't agree that using when indicates you will become a soldier. I think the below @Jay's answer is better. It depends on the context. – user24743 Feb 7 '16 at 11:43
  • Another possible conditional form is "When you become a soldier, you fight in wars." (With present simple in the result). This is the zero conditional. It means that the result is certain given the condition (although in this case it is arguable; not all soldiers fight in wars). – laugh salutes Monica C Feb 7 '16 at 11:57
  • Adding to the cooment above: In the zero conditional, the condition is not certain to happen to a specific person. "You" in this case indicates an unspecified general person (can be used instead of the more formal "one"). So it is guaranteed to happen, but not necessarily to you. – laugh salutes Monica C Feb 7 '16 at 12:07
  • The key here is "It depends on the context." This is why questions about interpreting simple statements can only get general answers/opinions at best. – user3169 Feb 7 '16 at 20:53
0

It depends on the meaning of you and who the person in question is.

If you refers to a particular person being addressed, then yes.

If you means people in general ("one"), then it just means that people who become soldiers will fight in wars, and a person in question may not have been contemplated.

0

"When" can be interpreted either way, depending on context. Sometimes "when" implies that the event is guaranteed to happen or at least is expected to happen. But other times it means more like, "if this happens, then at the time that it does ..."

If I read the statement you quote about "when you become a soldier" as a stand-alone statement with no context, I'd understand it to be conditional. Of course not everyone becomes a soldier, but of those who do become soldiers, then when they become soldiers, this is what will happen.

But if, say, I was a soldier, and my commanding officer said to me, "When you leave for Afghanistan ...", I would take that to mean that it was already decided that I was going.

Sometimes people will make a point of saying, "When ... not if, but when ..." Their point then is that the question is not whether the event will happen, but only the timing.

On the other hand, if someone wants to make sure that his audience will not understand him to mean that an event is inevitable, he may say, "If and when ..."

  • To be interpreted as a conditional sentence, it should have been When you become a soldier, you fight in wars.. That is the zero conditional form. Using "will" in the result only makes sense if this sentence talks about the timing of fighting, which means that becoming a soldier is given. – laugh salutes Monica C Feb 7 '16 at 11:49
  • @laugh Umm, not necessarily. I can certainly use "will" with a conditional. "If you cheat on this test, you will be caught." Etc. – Jay Feb 8 '16 at 4:48
  • That's OK - your last sentence is the first conditional which uses "will" and is very common. But with the first conditional you can't simply substitute "when" for "if". To me, "When you cheat on this test, you will be caught" implies certainty that you will cheat; this sentence talks about the timing, and is not conditional anymore. – laugh salutes Monica C Feb 8 '16 at 6:56
  • Consider the difference between A "if you jump up, you fall back" or "when you jump up, you fall back" or "when one jumps up, one falls back" (which have the same meaning - stating a general rule or fact); B "if you jump up, you will fall back" (can't be restated with "one"; this is stating a condition about you, not a general rule); and C "When you jump up, you will fall back" (which refers to the timing, and implies that you will jump). A is called zero conditional, B is called first conditional, and C is not a conditional statement. – laugh salutes Monica C Feb 8 '16 at 7:05
  • @laugh I don't think the rules are that straightforward in practice. I mean, maybe that's what it says in a grammar book, but people don't really talk that way. If on my first day at a new school the teacher said to the class, "In this school, when you are caught cheating, you will be expelled", I wouldn't take that to mean that the teacher expects every student in the class to cheat and be expelled, and the question is just a matter of when. Nor would I think it particularly odd that he said "when" instead of "if". It seems a perfectly natural sentence. – Jay Feb 8 '16 at 14:15

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.