Just in Case You Don't Use 'If'...

29 March, 2018

It is no surprise that many popular love songs use conditionals. Conditional sentences show that something is true only when something else is true. So, they help us talk about wishes, hopes and even regrets.

In her song "All the Way," classic American jazz singer Billie Holiday sings about love. She uses the word "unless" to show a condition.

When somebody loves you

It's no good unless he loves you all the way

The word unless means "if not." When Holiday says, "It's no good unless they love you all the way," she means a romance is not good if the person does not love you completely.

Everyday Grammar: Just in Case You Don't Use 'If'
Everyday Grammar: Just in Case You Don't Use 'If'

On a past Everyday Grammar program, we told you about conditionals that use the word if. For example, "If I practice enough, I can speak English."

But, in today's program, we will tell you about other words and phrases we use to make conditionals in spoken English.

First, let's quickly go over how conditionals work:

Conditional sentences have two parts: the conditional clause, which shows the condition, and the main clause, which shows the result. For example, "If I practice enough" is a conditional clause and "I can speak English" is the main clause.

Conditional clauses are not complete sentences. They need a main clause to be complete.

There are a few types of conditionals. Some show possible situations, like the sentence about speaking English. Some show improbable situations. And, others show situations that are impossible or very unrealistic. You can learn more about this in our past program.


Now, let's continue with unless.

In our Billie Holiday example, "unless they love you all the way" is the conditional clause. It shows the condition. And "It's no good" is the main clause. It shows the result of the condition.

Some English learners have a habit of putting the words "unless" and "if" together as "unless if" but these words should not be used together.

Otherwise and or

Two more words that express the same idea as unless are otherwise and or. Each word means if not. So, unless, or, otherwise and if not have the same basic meaning.

Keep in mind that or and otherwise also have other meanings. But in conditional statements, they mean "if not."

In his song "Trouble Loves Me," British singer Morrissey uses the word otherwise to talk about unreturned love.

So, console me

Otherwise hold me

Just when it seems like...

The conditional clause is "otherwise hold me" and the main clause is "So, console me."

Notice that his conditional and main clauses use the imperative form, so the subject "you" is not stated but is understood.

The word otherwise sometimes uses a different sentence structure in conditionals. Here's an example:

The plane must be delayed. Otherwise, she would have called.

In this example, the clauses are separate sentences. More importantly, even though the clause "otherwise, she would have called" contains the conditional word, it does not state the condition. The condition is "the plane must be late."

Having the condition appear in a separate sentence or clause is common with otherwise and or.

Listen to an example using or:

Finish your lunch or you can't play outside.

Here, the condition is "finish your lunch" and the result is "You can't play outside." You'll notice that the result clause – not the conditional clause – contains the conditional word or.

In case

Let's move on to the phrase in case.

We use in case to talk about things we should do to prepare for other things that may happen.

For example:

I'll bring an umbrella in case it rains.

In this sentence, I don't know if it will rain or not. But it's possible.

Now, listen to same sentence with if.

I'll bring an umbrella if it rains.

Did you get the difference in meaning? In the if sentence, I'll wait to see if it rains first. Then, I'll bring an umbrella.

Another usage for in case is mainly for signs about what to do if danger occurs. The structure of the conditional clause is in case of + noun. For example:

In case of emergency, break glass.

As long as

Our last conditional phrase for today is as long as. When we begin a conditional clause with as long as, the statement is a little stronger than using if. As long as essentially means "only if."

In his song called "As Long as You Love Me," American pop singer Justin Bieber says that his love can survive any difficulty.

As long as you love me

We could be starving

we could be homeless

we could be broke

As long as you love me

Because this is a song, it doesn't follow standard sentence structure. Here, the conditional clause is "as long as you love me." And, the other lines are main clauses.

One important note about conditionals is that you can often switch the placement of main and conditional clauses and get the same meaning.

For example: I'll bring an umbrella in case it rains means the same as In case it rains, I'll bring an umbrella.

And, if you learn conditionals, you'll have a lot more freedom to express yourself in English.

I'm Alice Bryant.

Alice Bryant wrote this story for Everyday Grammar. Caty Weaver was the editor.

Some of the conditionals we learned today don't follow the sentence structure of the three common types, but it's good to know a little about each:

Three Common Types of Conditionals

Conditional clause

Main clause

Type 1:

Future Real

In case it rains

If I learn conditionals

Simple present

I'll bring an umbrella.

I'll have a lot more freedom to express myself in English.

Simple future

Type 2:

Present Unreal

If I practiced more

Simple past

I would be a much better musician right now.

Would + simple present (or)

Would + present continuous

Type 3:

Past Unreal

If the event hadn't ended so late

Past perfect

I would have gotten more rest last night.

Would have + past participle

Would have + past perfect continuous


Words in This Story

phrase – n. group of two or more words that express a single idea but do not form a complete sentence

clause – n. a part of a sentence that has its own subject and verb

habit – n. a usual way of behaving

console – v. to try to make (someone) feel less sadness or

imperative – adj. having the form that expresses a command rather than a statement or a question

essential – adj. in a way that is very basic

starving – adj. suffering from lack of food

switch – v. to make a change from one thing to another