When vs. If

'When' and 'if' are used in different contexts but they are interchangeable on some occasions. In this lesson, we will find out more about them.

"When" vs. "If" in the English grammar

What Is Their Main Difference?

The main difference between 'when' and 'if' is in the level of certainty they convey. 'When' is more certain than 'if.'


In this section, we will discover more about 'when' and 'if' including the meaning they express and their parts of speech.


We use 'when' to express certain events in the future. In other words, we are sure these events will occur. Note that while the time reference is in the future, we use present tense in the 'when-clause.'

I will make dinner when I get home.

'When' is mainly used as an interrogative adverb, relative adverb, or a conjunction.

When were you going to tell me?


We use 'if' to talk about things that we are not certain about. In other words, these events are unlikely to happen.

I ill have to save money if I decide to go on a trip this year.

'If' is also used to introduce conditions. We use it to show that an action or event happens when another action is fulfilled. Here, 'if' is used as a conjunction.

You can take the car with you if you drive safely.

Note that the decision of choosing between 'when' and 'if' remains on the speaker. It depends on whether something is certain or not in our opinion. Have a look:

I will buy a car when I win the lottery.

The example above may seem correct but we are not sure whether or not we will win the lottery, therefore we must use 'if.'

I will buy a car if I win the lottery.

Are They Interchangeable?

'When' and 'if' are interchangeable when we are talking about general things. Note that in this context, 'if' means 'whenever.'

I keep quiet when/if I cannot find something good to say.


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