+0
Hello

I'm worried about the usage of "only if" and "if only".

Suppose a situation:
I want to live in Paris.
What I feel as the only one barrier to do so is the lack of French speaking skills.

Which sentence will be more appropriate to this situation?
[1] Only if I could speak French, I could live in Paris.
[2] If only I could speak French, I could live in Paris.

Is there any other good phrase to fit this situation?

paco
1 2 3 4
Comments  
Hi, Paco,
In this case I would use sentence [2]. It suggests wishfull thinking - I wish I could speak French, then I could live in Paris.
Sentence [1] means that you can only live in Paris if you speak French, which is hardly the case.
Cheers!
Hello Miche

Thank you so much. I asked this because I had a three-day dispute with a Japanese guy over this matter. He insists it should be "only if", although I have repeatedly said to him that "only if" is used to state a unique condition to get some event realized. Anyway, your answer clarified the cloud that had annoyed me.

paco
Students: Are you brave enough to let our tutors analyse your pronunciation?
Only if I could speak French could I live in Paris. [pure logic - from the viewpoint of the speaker, that is - Miche mentions this aspect of it]
If only I could speak French, I could live in Paris. [desire to learn French, disappointment at not being able to speak it]

The first seems to me the one you want for the situation you describe in your post.

CJ
one barrier to do so


Now that I read your note, CalifJim, I see you are right. What Paco means is in the first sentence. It just didn't seem logical to me.
Hello CJ and Miche

Reading your comments, I'm getting confused again. I know "only if ..." is a phrase used when the speaker wants to state something in a way very logical (I had often come across it in math textbooks). And because of this, I feel oddness in "only if" when it is used in a 2nd conditional sentence, i.e., "only if ... could, ... could ...".

By the way, CJ, is the inversion obligatory when "only if" is fronted?

paco
Students: We have free audio pronunciation exercises.
In my idiolect, the inversion is obligatory. There just may be speakers who accept it without the inversion.

Both your sentences are "Second Conditional", so I'm not following the rest of the question very well.

"could" neutralizes the difference between "were able to" and "would be able to". Is that bothering you?

[1] Only if I could speak French could I live in Paris.
[2] If only I could speak French, I could live in Paris.

Only if I were able to speak French would I be able to live in Paris.
If only I were able to speak French, I would be able to live in Paris.

Of the two, only the first expresses the idea in such a way that certain logical transformations can be applied. The first, therefore, is equivalent to: If I could not speak French, then I could not live in Paris. The second is not a matter of logic, but a rhetorical device. It is to be said with a very longing tone of voice and almost whining on the word "only". Woe is me! Poor me! If ONLY I could speak French, my life would be so much better. If ONLY I could speak French, my worries would be over. Because then I could live in Paris. -- I hear this as an intensified form of "If I could speak French (and I can't, poor me), I could live in Paris."

CJ
----------------------------Hope this helps............

[1] Only if I could speak French, I could live in Paris.

This one is more like a statement of fact. Only if the condition is met (speak French) would the RESULT (live in Paris) possibly happen.

[2] If only I could speak French, I could live in Paris.

This is a longing (a desire) to acquire the condition(speak French) in order to have the RESULT of living in Paris.
Hello CJ

Thank you for the reply.

Frankly I'm still confused. I take "if only I could speak French" as "if merely/just I could speak French", that is, "only" modifies "could speak French". On the other hand, "only" in "only if I could speak French" modifies "if". That is, I suppose, it is saying that the sole condition to attain at the goal of "living in Paris" is "being able to speak French". I'm wondering if one could use subjunctive mood in such a clear logical statement. OED contains 155 quotes using "only if" and all of them except one are using indicative mood in the only if clause.

paco
Teachers: We supply a list of EFL job vacancies
Show more