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Conditional Statements Made Easy: Dealing with Hidden Conditional Statements


Earlier this week, we gave you a quick run-down on the basics of sufficiency and necessity. Today, I have some good news and bad news for you. The bad news is that LSAC sometimes attempts to disguise conditional statements with more confusing language. The good news is that, once you learn how to interpret that language, the conditionals still work in exactly the same way.

Let’s look at an example. Suppose I tell you that, “My mom won’t let me go to the party unless I clean my room.” At first glance, this might not seem to be a conditional statement—it doesn’t have “if” or “all” or “requires” or any of those other nice key words that we discussed earlier in the week.

But let’s rephrase the sentence. Essentially, I’m saying that my ability to go to the party depends on whether I clean my room—if I am at the party, that means I definitely cleaned my room, and if I’m too busy bingeing old episodes of Friends to clean, then I’m outta luck. Now our sentence is starting to sound more conditional. If I don’t clean my room, then I can’t go to the party. Here’s what your diagram would look like:

Don’t clean room → Can’t go to party

Even though our original sentence—”My mom won’t let me go to the party unless I clean my room”—didn’t sound particularly conditional, it’s really stating that my attendance at the party hinges on whether I’ve cleaned.

Let’s try another example (this one goes out to our Bachelorette junkies!): “Without Lee, Rachel will be much happier.” Again, doesn’t really sound like one of those nice clear conditional sentences we’ve been looking at. But let’s think about alternate ways of expressing the same sentence: Now that Rachel has sent Lee packing, she will clearly experience an uptick in happiness. If she doesn’t have Lee, she will be happier. Or, to put it yet another way…

No Lee → Rachel will be happier

You get the idea. There are four words that you can mentally replace with “if not,” as we did in the examples above: without, unless, until, and except. Any time you see any of these words, mentally replace it with “if not,” and then treat it as a negated sufficient condition.

Let’s tackle one other secret conditional statement. Take a look at the sentence “No politicians are honest.” Again, it’s not obviously conditional—it’s missing that sweet, sweet “if/then” language. But let’s express the same sentiment in a different way: “All politicians are not honest.”

Similarly, in the statement “No Arrested Development fans liked the fourth season,” you’re really saying that 100% of AD fans disliked that fourth season (seriously, it sucked); ergo, if someone is a fan of Arrested Development, that person disliked the fourth season.

Now we start to see how these statements are conditional. They’re really saying that each member of the group lacks the given characteristic. Here’s how we’d diagram both examples:

Politician → Not honest

Arrested Development fan → Didn’t like fourth season

Any time you see a sentence that starts with “no,” treat it the same way—the “no” negates the second part of the sentence, which is the necessary condition.

These key words are invaluable for correctly interpreting conditional statements, and understanding how the key words work helps you apply them correctly. That said, it’s okay if this doesn’t make 100% sense to you right now. Just keep practicing spotting and diagramming the key words, and it will become much more intuitive as you get more practice.