Published online by Cambridge University Press: 01 March 2018
This article traces the diachronic development of English conditionals with clause-initial subclauses (If you hurt the cat, (then) she will bite you) by means of (frequency) data from three corpora (YCOE, PPCME2 and PPCEME). It investigates the division of labour between (g)if, and (meaning ‘if, suppose/provided that, on condition that’) and verb-initial conditionals from Old to Early Modern English. It is shown that conjunctional conditionals (e.g. if conditionals) have always been most frequent. The limitations on verb-initial conditionals (as they exist in Present-day English) develop diachronically and are related to restrictions on verb movement and choice of verb, and not frequency. Genre preferences, however, seem to exist. The use of then introducing the main clause will be shown to be a reflex of an earlier paratactic structure. Its use over time is influenced by mood and length, the latter being of influence especially in later periods.