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Concourse 2

Condition and Concession

Note: if you are looking for a straightforward guide to the conditional in English, you will find it elsewhere.

condition and concession 

two in one

Why treat these two in the same guide?

Because:

  1. the concepts of condition and concession overlap
  2. the nature of conjunction in such clauses also overlaps
  3. the structures are parallel in many cases

The area confuses learners (and many teachers, alas).
If you have a shaky knowledge of either the nature of conditionals or the nature of subordination, you would be wise to follow one or both of these guides: essentials of conditionals and conjunctions.  Nothing here repeats in detail what is covered in those guides and this guide assumes some knowledge of both.


difference

What's the difference between condition and concession?

Conditional refers to an event or state being dependent on another event or state.
Concession refers to an event or state being contrasted with another state or event.

Here are some examples, some of condition, some of concession.  In all cases, the clauses are acting as adverbial adjuncts, modifying how the verb in the main clause should be understood.  The clause is highlighted.
Your tasks are to:

  1. decide which is conditional and which concessive
  2. think about the meanings
  3. consider how the grammar is working

There is one rogue example which is not a subordinate clause.  Spot it if you can.
Click on the eye open to reveal some comments when you have done the three tasks.

Examples What kind?  What's meant?  What's the grammar doing?
Should you ask her, she’ll probably agree.
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Kind: This is an adverbial clause of condition.
Meaning: The implication is that her agreement depends on the condition that you ask her being fulfilled.
Grammar: It is slightly unusual in that the conjunction has been omitted and the word order adjusted.
Even though it was raining, we went out.
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Kind: This is an adverbial clause of concession.
Meaning: The speaker/writer wishes to make it clear that there is something surprising about the fact that they went out.  In other words, he/she is conceding a fact.
Grammar: The conjunction is even though and the clause order could be reversed with the conjunction taking a central position in the sentence.
Unless it rains, we’ll go for a picnic.
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Kind: This is an adverbial clause of condition.
Meaning: In this case, the conjunction reveals that it is a negative condition akin to only if not.  See the note below on unless.
Grammar: the order of clauses can be reversed but there is a consequent change of emphasis.  We could also re-express it as If it doesn't rain, we'll go for a picnic.
Although he can’t really afford it, he bought me a present.
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Kind: This is an adverbial clause of concession.
Meaning: The speaker/writer is implying that there is a surprising contrast between the two facts.
Grammar: The subordinating conjunction, although, frequently occurs with such clauses.
Even if I had the money, I wouldn’t lend it to you.
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Kind: Here we have a difficult case and an example of the overlap between condition and concession.  This clause is probably best described as conditional-concessive.
Meaning: Clearly, condition is implied because having the money would be a prerequisite for considering a loan.  However, concession is also implied because the speaker/writer is wants to suggest that granting the request would, in any case, be surprising.
Grammar: The clauses can be reversed but, again, with a change of emphasis.
He doesn’t eat well but usually looks fine.
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This is the rogue!
Kind: We have two clauses of equal standing here joined by a coordinating conjunction.  It is a compound, not a complex, sentence.
Meaning: A (surprising) contrast between the two facts is clear so the sense is concession, not condition.
Grammar: but is not a subordinating conjunction although the meaning can be expressed using subordination:
    Although he doesn't eat well, he usually looks fine.
Providing the landlord agrees, you can sublet the bedroom.
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Kind: Here we have an adverbial clause of condition.
Meaning: The conjunction, providing, implies if and only if, rather than plain if.
Grammar: The structure is that of a conditional with if.  Other subordinating conjunctions of this nature are provided (that), on condition (that) etc.

The essential differences between conditional, concessive and the odd conditional-concessive clauses should now be clear.


analyse

How do we analyse clauses of condition and concession?

Like this.  Conditionals first:


condition

condition

Unless it stops snowing ...  

You should look at the essentials of conditionals for comments on the meaning and form of if-sentences.  Here we'll only consider issues not discussed fully there.

Look at the following examples.  What do you notice?  Click on the eye open to reveal come comments.

Examples What do you notice?
Unless the landlord forbids it, you can sublet the room.
Providing / provided (that) the landlord doesn't forbid it, you can sublet the room.
You can come to the meeting as / so long as you promise to be well behaved.
If the landlord doesn't forbid it, you can sublet the room.
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This is somewhat subtle but unless is better described as the negative of a term like providing rather than if because the sense is only if ... not rather than plain if not.
All the following are approximately synonymous with providing but stylistically slightly different in terms of formality and subtly different in terms of meaning:
provided (that), as long as, so long as, on condition that
The so long ... as and as long ... as expressions are less formal.  on condition that is the most formal.
The conjunctions so long ... as and as long ... as strongly imply reciprocity and a quid pro quo in the sense of This will happen only if a specified event occurs.
If you have any questions ask me.
If you have some questions, ask me.
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This type of conditional is common, with an imperative taking the place of a will clause.  That's not the point.
The point is that because conditionals refer to uncertainty, as questions clearly do, they also take the non-assertive any rather than some, anything rather than something and so on.
In fact, it can be argued that in the second example, the meaning is not really conditional because there's no doubt in the speaker's mind that the hearer does have questions, hence the use of the assertive some.
Don't bother to write unless you need some money.
If you don't need any money, don't bother to write.
If she hadn't asked me, I would never have told her.
Unless she had asked me I would never have told her.
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These examples show the true nature of unless:

  1. unless usually does come with the assertive some, someone, something etc. rather than the any- parallels.  This is because the stress is on what's excluded.
  2. unless clauses don't occur with wholly hypothetical meanings.  You can have, e.g.:
        If you weren't a doctor, what would you like to be?
    but you can't have
        *Unless you were a doctor what would you like to be?
If I was asked, I'd probably decline.
If I were asked, I'd probably decline.
I didn't want to ask, lest he became angry.
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This is the most obvious case of the subjunctive form being used in conditional clauses.  Usually, either of the forms here are acceptable but the commonly expected form in the expression if I were you is the subjunctive.
The subjunctive form also occurs in many of the following examples.
The conjunction lest is rare but as can be seen from this example, almost obliges the use of the subjunctive form.
For more on the subjunctive in English, see the guide.
If a problem should arise, please contact us.
If you should need anything, please ask.
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The use of should is common to all persons (not just the first).  It is known as the putative should.
This is also, arguably, a use of the subjunctive.  Compare, for example,
I suggest you go ... and I suggest you should go.
Should I be asked, I'd probably decline.
Were I to be asked, I'd probably decline.
Had I been asked, I would probably have declined.

If he be found out, there'll be serious trouble.
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A common, if formal, way of omitting the conjunction is to invert the subject and operator as in these examples.
It works OK for the hypothetical, unreal or unlikely conditions but is less clear in the case of something like Were you to ask I'll go (?) as an alternative to If you ask I'll go.
Many would not accept that, but the final example on the left is of a rare (obsolete?) use of the present subjunctive.
Look to see if the cake has risen sufficiently.  If so, remove it from the oven and allow it to cool.  If not, allow it a further ten minutes.
Unless part of a visiting team, you are not allowed beyond this point.
If the weather is fine, we'll meet in the garden: if wet, in the hall.
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Both if and unless are common:

  1. when introducing pro-clauses (if so, if not, unless so, unless not)
  2. in abbreviated clauses in which part of the clause is elided and can be inferred from context

note

A note on the meaning of will and would

It is sometimes asserted that the modal verb will cannot be used in both parts of a conditional sentences so, for example,:
    *They will not come if it will rain
is not allowed.
That is true when the verb is used to express a view of futurity.
However, if the verb is used both to express willingness and futurity, then the double use is allowed in for example:
    If you will promise to give up drinking, I will marry you
where the first use of will refers to willingness and the second to futurity.  Compare, for example:
    If you promise to give up drinking, I will marry you
which is a conditional sentence per se.

The modal verb would is also polysemous and exhibits the same phenomenon so, while
    *If it would stop raining we would go for a walk
is not allowed,
the verb can also refer politely or with a lack of confidence to willingness, as in, e.g.:
    If they would stop talking so loudly, I would be able to hear the music
in which the first use of would refers to distant or unlikely willingness and the second use of would refers to an unlikely future.

three

three alternative ways to express condition

There are a number of ways that English can express conditionality without (partially at least) the complications of conditional structures.  They are:

  1. Common, surprisingly so and especially in spoken language
  2. Often without parallels in other languages and a source of misunderstanding because learners simply miss the conditional nature of what has been said
Using the coordinator and
Instead of, for example:
    If you give me a lift to work, I'll buy you a drink
we can express the same idea with
    Give me a lift to work and I'll buy you a drink
In the if-sentence, the clauses can be reversed but the use of and forbids that (because it is a true coordinator) so we can have:
    I'll buy you a drink if you give me a lift to work
but
    *I'll buy you a drink and you give me a lift to work
is nonsense and so is:
    *And you give me a lift to work, I'll buy you a drink
because coordinators must appear between the clauses they coordinate.
Using the coordinator or and the adverb otherwise
This works similarly and is often used for threats so, instead of, for example:
    Unless you repay the money we'll take you to court
we can have
    Repay the money or we'll take you to court
It can also be used in non-threats expressing logical consequences so, for example, instead of the complicated:
    If they had been enjoying the party, they wouldn't have left early
we can partially simplify it to:
    They hadn't been enjoying the party or they wouldn't have left early
Again, the use of or in these sentences forbids the reversal of the clauses because it, too, is a coordinator not a subordinator.  We can allow :
    They wouldn't have left early if they had been enjoying the party
but
    *They wouldn't have left early or they had been enjoying the party
is nonsense.
Equally, because it coordinates rather than subordinates, the word or cannot be placed before the first clause
    *Or they hadn't been enjoying the party they wouldn't have left early
is also nonsense.
With this coordinating conjunction, the insertion of the adverb otherwise is quite common, as in, for example, instead of
    If you don't lend him the money he won't be able to go to the concert
we can have:
    Lend him the money or, otherwise, he won't be able to go to the concert
The adverb can also function as a conjunct, with or without or, in which case it requires a new sentence as in, for example:
    Lend him the money.  Otherwise, he won't be able to go to the concert
Using non-finite clauses
This is often achieved with the use of an -ing form in the non-finite clause.  For example, instead of:
    If you tell her the truth, you'll make her furious
or
    If you told her the truth you'd make her furious
or
    If you had told her the truth you'd have made her furious
we can simply have:
    Telling her the truth will make her furious
    Telling her the truth would make her furious
    Telling her the truth would have made her furious

respectively.
There is a guide to finite and non-finite clauses on this site.

Many other languages cannot do some or all of these things and that leads to error in terms of interpreting what is heard or seen and reduces the variability available to learners who are unaware of the possibilities.


concession

concession

OK, you win  

Just as conditional clauses contain a variety of conjunctions (see above) concessional clauses can also come in a variety of guises.
Here are some examples for you to consider:

Examples What do you notice?
Although the game ended in a draw, it was fascinating to watch.
The result was never in doubt although the election was closely fought.
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although is probably the most common conjunction in subordinating concessional clauses.  Inserting it, instead of the other possibilities, is often the way to see if we are dealing with concession at all.
While the game may be dull to the uninitiated, I enjoy it immensely.
Whereas he has plenty of money, his poorer brother is more generous.
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Both while and whereas sometimes operate as subordinating conjunctions in concessive clauses but they also have other functions.  The conjunction whilst is sometimes encountered in the same sense.
The use of the epistemic modal auxiliary verbs may and might in this form of concession is quite common but not obligatory.
Even if you don't like cricket, a visit to a test match is something quite special.
She sent him the money, even though she could ill afford it.
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Both even if and even though act as subordinating conjunctions in concessive clauses.
Only even if can also occur in conditional clauses, so:
    Even if it's raining I'll go for a walk
is a conditional sentence referring to future weather conditions, but:
    Even though it's raining, I'll go for a walk
is a concessive referring to the present weather conditions.
If he's not very rich, at least he's generous.
Treat the answer with respect, if you can't agree with it.
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In both these cases, if is acting as a concessive subordinating conjunction.  There's no sense of conditional meaning here.
Although quite young she's wise.
I managed to win, though narrowly.
He explained them, though I didn't understand the instructions
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As we saw with conditional clauses, abbreviated clauses of concession are common.
In the first of these examples, the subject needs to be recovered cataphorically (by waiting for it to appear).
In the third example, it is the object that the hearer needs to recover cataphorically.


conditional-concessive linking

conditional-concessive

There are two sorts of these:

alternative clauses with whether
in these clauses, one of the alternatives will be concessive (i.e., a surprise) and the other will simply be conditional.  For example,
    Whether she was with him or not, she felt miserable.
This implies:
    a) she felt miserable if she was with him (conditional)
    b) she felt miserable although she was with him (concessional)
wh- + ever words
These are not alternative (as with whether) but universal meanings.  For example,
    Whatever you say, he will not listen to reason.
    However badly he treated her, she remained loyal.
These imply:
    If you say something he won't listen to reason (conditional)
    Although you say something, he won't listen (concessive)
    If he treated her badly, she remained loyal (conditional)
    Although he treated her badly, she remained loyal (concessive)
Note that wh- + ever words can often be introduced with It doesn't matter ... or  No matter ... and in this case, the -ever ending is usually omitted:
    It doesn't matter where you put it, it will be in the way
    No matter how nicely you ask, she won't lend you the money

classroom

Teaching implications 

the conditional shibboleth

For most teaching purposes, it may be adequate to focus on 'the conditional' as if it were a unique grammatical structure.  It isn't, because subordinating conjunctions and the adverbial clauses they accompany perform a variety of functions, only two of which have been considered above.
If you have read through the guide to conjunctions, you know that subordinating conjunctions come in many guises and each can be successfully taught.
Here's a short list of the most common types of subordination with examples of each.  All of these can form the basis of a series of lessons which build up to a fuller understanding of subordination into which learners can assimilate the particular characteristics of The Conditional.
Doing it that way, makes the structure far less intimidating and, arguably, more comprehensible.  In fact, one could get away from teaching The Conditional altogether.  It's a bit of a shibboleth.

The list:
Type Examples
Concession although / even though / though it's raining, I'll take a walk
while I understand the point, I still disagree
though we were tired, we were happy with the work
Comparison she is younger than I am
I would rather go than stay
I had eaten whereas they went hungry
Time she came after the party had finished
I showered before I had lunch
I have lived here since I was a child
Reason I left because he arrived
I'll tell you, since you ask
this is the reason why I dislike it
Manner I did it how I was told to do it
he speaks as though / if he is the boss
he parties like there's no tomorrow
Place I will stay where / wherever I like
She'll go wherever she pleases
They go whither they want
Condition
if it's raining we'll go home
supposing he declines, what will you say?
even if he does say no, I'll go ahead

As you can see, conditional and concessive clauses are only part of the whole area of subordination.  There are six other areas to consider, all of which are important, and many of which are simpler to understand.
For example, the so-called first conditional is introduced with trumpets and fanfares at an early stage in the learning process but is actually little different from a number of subordinating constructions learners may already have encountered.  Making it a unique challenge is unhelpful.  The use of will in the first conditional is simply to show volition (as in I will study medicine at university).  Here's what's meant:

conditional structure parallel structures
I'll go if you ask I'll go only because you ask me (reason)
I'll go when you tell me to
(time)
I'll go where you want me to
(place)
I'll go although he wants me to stay
(concession)
I'll do it how you say
(manner)

The use of would in other conditional clauses (as in the dread second and third conditionals) has a similar function, hence the possibility of changing the modal meaning by using, e.g., could or might.  We can get more parallels here, too:

conditional structure parallel structures
I would / might / could come to the party if he asked me I asked him to come because I thought he would / might / could enjoy it (reason)
I told him when the party would / might / could begin
(time)
I told him where the party would / might / could be
(place)
Although he said he hates parties, I thought he would / might / could enjoy this one
(concession)
I explained how he would / might / could do it
(manner)

Whether you decide to build on knowledge of the conditional structures to help learners with other types of subordinating clauses or vice versa is a matter of choice.  However, the key point is that conditionals are not about if and its meanings, they are primarily about subordination.
Once learners have been led to notice the structure of subordination, much else falls into place for them and the conditional structures per se lose their menace.



Related guides
essentials of conditionals for a simpler guide to conditional forms
conjunctions for an overview of the area
the subjunctive which includes consideration of the putative should in English
tenses in dependent clauses for more verbs forms
finite and non-finite clauses if the terms have confused you
assertive and non-assertive if the terms are unfamiliar to you
coordination for an overview and the distinction from subordination


Main reference:
Quirk, R, Greenbaum, S, Leech, G & Svartvik, J, 1972, A Grammar of Contemporary English, Harlow: Longman
Yule, G., 1998, Explaining English Grammar, Oxford: Oxford University Press