Two of my colleagues at the Leiden University Centre for Linguistics are working on the collocation of dat “that” and als “if” in sentences like Hij dacht dat als hij drukte, het luikje open zou gaan (“He thought that if he pushed, the trap would open”). In Dutch, the combination of two conjunctions is considered unacceptable, and writing manuals brand its use as a stylistic error.
The question was put to me whether this was also a usage problem in English, even though the construction is apparently regularly used. An English example they gave is the following:
De Saussure was so determined to have the mountain conquered that if he was not to be the one to do so, someone else should […]
Doing a full-text search in the HUGE database produced many similar examples, so this that if construction seems quite acceptable. But I promised to consult the readers of this blog, so my question is whether this sentence is considered problematical at all, and if so, in what variety of English.
If Dutch and English do indeed appear to take different stands on the acceptability of the construction, I would be interested in finding out why this would be the case. And also, whether the construction is considered fine (or not) in other languages than English or Dutch.
Like my colleagues, I’d be very interested in hearing what you think!