grammatical expression: what if

Today’s grammatical expression is “what if” and it can be used in three ways. The first way is when we are worried about something and we want to talk about the thing we are worried about. For example:

I’m really worried about my new job. What if I make a mistake on my first day?

I really don’t want to change my school. What if nobody likes me at the new school?

I don’t want to buy such an expensive watch. What if I break it?

The second way to use “what if” is when we are making a suggestion and we want to know someone’s opinion of our suggestion. For example:

A: I like the design for this ad, but it doesn’t look quite right.

B: What if we changed the background color to green?

A: Yes, I think that would be a good idea.


A: My wife is angry at me because I forgot her birthday.

B: What if you took her out for an expensive dinner?

A: No, I don’t think that will work. She’s really angry!


A: I don’t know how I’m going to finish all this work tonight.

B: What if Sam and I help you?

A: That would be great! Thank you so much!

The third way to use “what if” is when asking about another possibility which is different from the present situation. For example:

A: Did you hear that ABC Company went bankrupt?

B: Really? I almost invested in them. What if I had actually done that? I would have lost a lot of money.

There was a big fire in my apartment building while I was at work. What if I had been home at the time? I could have died!

What if you found out you had only six months to live? What would you do with that time?

This last way of using it is a little more complicated than the other two ways. In this case, we are imagining the possibility of something happening which is not real. Therefore, we often use the word “would” or “could” because they indicate that we are talking about something which is only in our imaginations.


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