What’s the difference between even if and even when?

Last man on Earth meme.

The man on this TV show asks, “I am the last man on earth.  Would you go out on a date with me?”

The person he is talking to might answer, “I wouldn’t go on a date with you even if you were the last man on Earth!”

The joke here is the man in this TV show really is the last man on Earth.  We laugh because even when he is the last man on Earth, he still can’t get a date!  Why?  There are no more women, of course!

What is the difference between even if and even when?

We use even if to suggest a hypothetical, imaginary situation, a situation that is not real.

For example:  I am not a fan of beards.  To me, they look messy, and I imagine them being full of food.  I am a woman, though, and can’t grow one myself.  However, even if I were a man, I wouldn’t have a beard.

Here’s another example: In the U.S., marriage is legal between just two partners at the same time.  It is illegal to have more than one wife or more than one husband at the same time.  However, even if that law changed, I wouldn’t want a second spouse.  It would be too much work!

Notice how we use the unreal present/future conditional I verb form in these sentences.

Let’s take a look at a past time example.  For events in the past, we use the unreal past conditional III verb form.

Let’s look again at the beard example.  I wasn’t born a man.  I was born a woman.  Even if I had been born a man, I wouldn’t have chosen to grow a beard.

In contrast, we use even when to talk about real situations.

For example:  I sometimes get sick with a cold or the flu.  However, I have a job, and I take my job very seriously.  I don’t like to miss work.  Therefore, even when I am sick, I go to work.

PELA Students with pumpkin

PELA students enjoying being outside even when it is not summer time.

Here’s another example:  I live in Portland, Oregon.  Portlanders love to spend time outside since the nature is so beautiful here.  It rains a lot here.  Even when it rains, I still take walks and exercise outside.

Notice how we don’t use the conditional form with even when.  We use the simple present to show that these events are real and true.

Here’s an example from the past:  I haven’t always lived in Oregon.  I used to live in Wisconsin.  I have always loved nature and being outside.  Even when I lived in Wisconsin, I always spent a lot of time outside.

Again, we don’t use the conditional form.  We just use the simple past to show that these events were true.

Finally, as both of these expressions start an adverb clause, they can begin the sentence or come in the middle. If they come in the middle, do not use a comma.

  • I wouldn’t go on a date with you even if you were the last man on Earth!
  • Even if you were the last man on Earth, I wouldn’t go on a date with you!
  • I don’t skip work even when I’m sick.
  • Even when I’m sick, I don’t skip work.

 

Practice:  Read through the following situations and decide whether or not you need even if or even when in each blank.  (Answers below.)

  1. Jessie is single. She thinks that men and women should share housework.  ______________ she were married, she would refuse to do all of the cooking and cleaning.
  1. Abdullah is studying English in the U.S. now. ________________ he lived in his own country, he realized what an important language English was.  That’s why he decided to come here.
  1. Mike talks non-stop. He loves the sound of his own voice.  __________________ he is at home with just his dog for company, he still talks out loud.  His friends all think he’s a little crazy.
  1. Reading in a bus or a car makes me feel sick. It gives me a headache and makes me feel queasy.  ______________ I had forgotten to do some really important homework, I couldn’t do it on the bus.  I would have to wait until school to finish it.
  1. Vampires supposedly live forever. I think that would be terrible. Life would get really boring after a while.  Therefore, _______________ someone offered me a pill that would make me live forever, I wouldn’t take it.
  1. Ken doesn’t ever feel cold. __________________ it’s snowing outside, he still wears shorts and sandals.

 

(Answers:  even if / even when / even when / even if / even if / even when)

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