This is a guest post by Yvonne Canchola. If you want to write for Daily Writing Tips check the guidelines here.
The tiny word “if” sets many, many language traps for the hasty.
Consider this note:
“If you happen to be in the area, we will be at Meehan’s Ale House. So stop on by.”
Nice to be invited and welcome, isn’t it? But wait! I think this must be a magical reunion: telepathically—or by owl post, my friends will know that, by happenstance, I am indeed close by, and instantly they convene in the place we agreed upon. So really I have no need to RSVP, because somehow they will know, and the gathering will already be in place when I find time to make my appearance.
Of course, my friends’ trip to the pub is not conditional upon my whereabouts, but that is what the use of if suggests. The intended meaning is that my friends want to let me know that they will be at the pub whether my business takes me their way or not. They will be at the ale house. If I happen to be in the area, I can join them.
The problem with this type of sentence is not grammatical; it’s semantic. The part of the thought process that is conditioned by the if-clause is missing. The error, actually an omission, can be fixed quite easily: “If you happen to be in the area, remember that we will be at Meehan’s Ale House. So stop on by.”
Other instances of this kind of error:
“If you are new to my blog, I post a poll every month….”
“If you are new to my blog, I have to catch you up: I post a poll every month.”
“If you have not already seen the new Tim Burton movie, it really is something!”
“If you have not already seen the new Tim Burton movie, let me tell you: it is really something.”
However, “if” does not strike me as the most precise word choice here. I would suggest,
“Assuming that you have not already seen….”
“If you have ever seen xyz movie, that’s what our vacation was like.”
“If you have ever seen xyz movie, you can imagine our vacation…”
“If you’re interested in xyz product, half of the payment is due by April 30th.”
I doubt that the price is conditional on your interest. Despite my personal lack of interest, for the rest of the people who have decided or will decide to purchase it, half of the payment is probably still due by April 30.
Thus, it should read,
“If you’re interested in xyz product, you need to know that half of the payment is due by April 30th.”
Here again I would choose “in case” or “assuming/supposing that” instead of “if.”
While the above sentences are perfectly understandable to colloquial speakers of the English language, non-native speakers may stumble.