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Summary Details

Query:   Summary: even if
Author:  Hiroaki Tanaka
Submitter Email:  click here to access email
Linguistic LingField(s):   Semantics

Summary:   Dear Linguists,

On LINGUIST List: Vol.8-959(25/07/1997), I posted the following
query. Three people responded to my investigation. My great thanks
goes to the following people. Since their judgements varied, I
labelled A, B and C to them just for convenience in writing this

A: M. Lynne Roecklein <>
B: Laura Gonnerman <>

The query and summary are as follows.

- -----------------------------------------------------

I have been working on some probelms of the meanings of "even if",
especially the following so-called consequent-entailment reading of
"even if". Please help me check the accptablities of the following

Are the following sentences acceptable or have natural flow of
interpretation? Please put OK, ? or * in each slot and comments, if
any. If the sentences you judge are unacceptable, what kind of context
would you consider to increase the acceptabilities?

(1) (A: *; B: OK; C:? ) (Context: My employer is so puritanical that
he would fire me if I behaved in what he considered a libertine
manner. )

"Even if"my wife smoked cigarettes, he would fire me, but, since
she wouldn't ever smoke, he won't fire me.

Comment of A: The 'even if' clause is OK with with "", but
the second halfdoesn't match. No one would ever phrase this
combination of ideas this way. It has a split focus. Is the topic
the extent of the employer's puritanism (first half) , or the
likelihood/unlikelihood of the speaker's being fired (second half).

I find even my Japanese colleagues do this split focus thing all the
time. Such sentences are extremely difficult and often impossible to
parse in any natural way. It took several years of familiarity with
Japanese versions of English for me even to identify what is going on
in sentences like this. I'd love to know an effective way to explain
to Japanese students of English why this won't work and maybe more
important, how to recognize that they've pro9duced an illicit split
focus construction.

(2) (A:???; B:OK; C:? ) "Even if" you drink just a little, your boss
will fire you, but, since you sruely won't drink at all, he won't fire

Comment of A:a) " "Even if...will fire you" is most easily interpreted
as habitual, while "you surely *won't* drink at all" would designate a
single event in the future. These sit uneasily together. b) Since
drinking a lot is antithetical to drinking a little, the last clause
must imply that the boss is thinking of firing the addressee for some
other reason. In this case, interpeting the first half according to
a) above, there can be no connection between the firing and the
drinking and the sentence fails by virtue of non-entailment.

On the other hand, if one *goes back* and reinterprets the 'you' in
the first half merely as the addressee, then the sentence might be
possible, given that condition b) abvove represents the real state of
affairs. It would also be implied that the boss needs just a little
bit more reason to actualy execute the firing. The final clause would
sound better with "can't" than with "won't", however, in this

(3) (A:**; B: *; C:* ) "Even if" you drink just a little, your boss
will fire you, but since you surely drink a lot, he won't fire you.

Comment of A:The action posited by the "even if" clause is already
a maximum limit. The sentence is logically impossible.

Comment of B: But if you continue the sentence as below then it is
fine by me.

(3) (OK ) "Even if" you drink just a little, your boss will fire
you, but since you surely drink a lot, he won't fire you, you'll get
fed up and quit before he gets a chance.

(4) (A: OK; B:OK; C:? ) If it doesn' rain, the game will
continue. "Even if" it rains lightly, the game will continue; but if
it rains heavily, the rain will be cancelled.

I'm sorry I've made a mistake here. The final clause should be, the
game will be cancelled, as Roecklein(A) pointed out.

(5) (A:**; B: *; C:* ) If it doesn't rain, the game will
continue. "Even if"it rains lightly, the game will be cancelled; but
if it rains heavily, the game will continue.

Comment of A: NONSENSE, in order and logic.

Comment of B: Okay if you continue with something like:
(5) (OK) If it doesn't rain, the game will continue. "Even if"it
rains lightly, the game will be cancelled; but if it rains heavily,
the game will continue, but it will be moved to an indoor arena.

(6) (A:**; B:?; C:* ) "Even if" the president were to get ingestion
tonight, the cease-fire would end, but, if we resume negotiations with
the enemy for a treaty of peace, it will continue.

I'm sorry I've mistyped the word here too. Ingestion should be
indigestion. Comment of A: I would imagine rather that indigestion
would CONTRIBUTE to the end of the ceasefire.

(7) (A: OK; B:OK; C:? ) "Even if" my wife smoked cigarettes, I would
not scold her, but, if she ever broke my favorite dishes, I would
scold her.

Comment of A: "Scold her" should nto be repeated at the end.
Very Unnatural.

(8) (A:?; B: ?; C:? ) "Even if" my wife smokes cigarettes, I will
not scold her, but,if she breaks my favorite dishes, I will scold her.

Comment of A: Underlying logic OK. I don't like "even if" with the
indicative present verb because I like to mark conditionals on the
verb, but I'm aware that this usage is in process of change.
Same proviso as above for the repeated "scold her."

The preferences of conditionals in even if clause over the
indicative present are the same to all three people. However, I found
many examples of the indicative type. This seems a matter of
individual preferences.

Comment of B: (8) (OK) "Even if" my wife smokes cigarettes at the
dinner table, I will not scold her, but,if she breaks my favorite
dishes, I will scold her.

Comment of C: To make sense of many of your contexts, I had to
postpose the "even if" clause, e.g., "I will not scold my wife, even
if she smokes cigarettes." Placing the "even if" clause first in the
sentence makes it more emphatic.

My own summary:
(3) and (5) are judged logically impossible as I have expected. But
I do not understand Laura Gonnerman's rephrasing OK sentence of (5).

(6) is also judged unnnatural to all the three people though I
expected it would be OK. It seems to me the final clause cahnges the
situation and focus of the sentence. Why not OK?

Finally, I must apologize to you all about the use of "scold" in
the final two sentences. One person reminded me of the bad implication
of husband's scolding his wife. I didn't notice it. In Japan, too, a
husband who "scold" his wife is an arrogant person these days.

Thank you very much for your help. Please make further comments, if
any, on this usage. I'll be glad to make a reply. Hiroaki Tanaka

Associate Professor
Faculty of Integrated Arts and Sciences
Tokushima University, Japan

1-1, Minamijousanjioma,
Tokushima, 770,

phone & fax: +81 886 56 7125

LL Issue: 8.1057
Date Posted: 14-Jul-1997
Original Query: Read original query


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