Grammar 15--How to Talk About Conditions

There are many situations in life where something may happen because something else happened first. We express this idea by taking two simple sentences, one for each action, and connecting them with a special conjunction. In this article we will show you how to use two such Russian conjunctions.

Condition or Test and Promised Result

In English we can combine two sentences using “if”:

You give me a dollar. + I give you the book.
                If you give me a dollar, I will give you the book.

If the first action is fulfillment, the second ought to follow. In Russian we use “если”:

Если дашь доллар, я дам книгу.

Just like “if” in English, “еслиintroduces the condition the condition. The condition can come either before or after the promised result. For example this sentence means pretty much the same as the one above:

Я дам книгу, если дашь доллар.

We can also use “если” to indicate that if a condition is met, a particular action should definitely be performed:

Если Анна придёт, дай ей торт. If Anna comes, give her the cake.

But be careful, “если” is not a perfect equivalent of “if”. Take this sentence.

Спроси его если Иван пришёл.

You might think this means “Ask him if (whether) John came.” But it actually means:

If John came, then ask him.

So “если” always indicates a definite condition. Never use it anywhere where the English word “whether” would fit.

Necessary Condition and Expected Result

If we want to say that if a certain necessary condition is met a certain result is expected we use “чтобы”. It has the meaning “in order to” or “so that”.

Я пришёл чтобы с Вами поговорить.

I came to talk to you.

Вы дали доллар чтобы я дал книгу?

You gave me the dollar so that I would give you the book?

Следи чтобы утюг не упал.

Watch out so that the flatiron doesn't fall.

Чтобы медведь не зашёл я закрыл дверь.

So that the bear won't come in I closed the door.

Notice that the necessary condition may come first or last, but the expected result is always described immediately after the word “чтобы”.

The description of the expected result which comes after “чтобы” must take one of two possible forms. It can be in the infinitive:

Я пошёл на почту чтобы отправить письмо.

I went to the post office in order to send a letter.

This form indicates that both actions are to be performed by the same party.

If there are two parties, then the sentence after “чтобы” must have a subject and a verb in the past tense. For example:

Я приду чтобы Вы постригли мне волосы.

I will came in order for you to cut my hair.

Under no circumstance whatsoever may the verb which follows чтобы be in the present or future tense.

A wish can be a necessary condition if it is expressed to party who is expected to fulfill it:

Я хочу чтобы ты позвал врача.

I want you to call a doctor.

The idea here is that we cannot expect the person addressed to call a doctor until his is asked to do so.

But, do not use чтобы to describe a wish if there is just one person involved. We can still join the two sentences, but we must leave out the word “чтобы”:

Я хочу чтобы позвать врача.

I want to call a doctor.