“If you were to do” compared to “If you did”

If they were to cancel the deal, I would be devastated.

If they canceled the deal, I would be devastated.

My thextbook says, the "if … were to" construction gives much less probability for something to happen. But an American said to me that it is not, he does not perceive it when he hears it.


The current question overlaps considerably with this earlier one asking about using future tense after if.

As has often been pointed out on ELL, English only really has two tenses (past, and "not-past")1. And "hypothetical" scenarios such as might follow if are "orthogonal" to the past-present-future timeline anyway, so we’re pretty flexible about the choice of tense.

1: If you cancel, I will go instead
2: If you cancelled, I would go instead
3: If you were to cancel, I would go instead
4: If you are cancelling, I will go instead
5: If you will cancel, I will go instead
6: If you would cancel, I would go instead
etc., etc.

All the above are pretty much equivalent, except that using the modal will/would in #5/#6 is more evocative of volition (i.e. – If you are willing to cancel…), so it’s more likely to be used when making a request, rather than a simple statement (about a hypothetical action/reaction).

Regarding OP’s idea of the probability of the scenario being (or becoming) true, there’s no difference implied by the actual choice of words. But if the speaker wishes to convey that he considers the scenario unlikely, he may well use OP’s first format, stressing the word were

If you were to cancel, I would be very surprised indeed!

1 More accurately perhaps, the two fundamental tenses in English are present and "not-present".

Source : Link , Question Author : Graduate , Answer Author : FumbleFingers

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