If You Will: Definition, Meaning and Origin

Last Updated on
June 13, 2023

The idiom "if you will" is a phrase often used to suggest that the speaker is using a term or phrase in a metaphorical or figurative way. It's also a way of asking the listener to accept the term or phrase within the context of the conversation, even if its usage might not be strictly accurate or traditional.

In short:

"If you will" is generally used to indicate that a term or phrase is being used metaphorically, figuratively, or in a non-standard way. 

What Does "If You Will" Mean?

When used in conversation, the phrase "if you will" is a way of saying, "imagine this" or "think of it in this way." For instance, you might say, "My better half, if you will," or "The dawn of time, if you will." It signals an awareness the phrase isn't completely accurate but aims to convey the essence or gist.

Let's explore its core meanings:

  • It often asks the listener to consider a term or phrase metaphorically or figuratively.
  • It can indicate that a term or phrase is being used in an unusual or non-standard way.
  • While it is often used informally, it can also be found in more formal or literary contexts.

Where Does "If You Will" Come From?

Like many idioms, the exact origins of "if you will" are difficult to pin down. The phrase has been used in English for centuries, and its use in the modern sense can be traced back at least to the 19th century.

The phrase seems to have evolved from a literal usage. In older texts, "if you will" often appears as part of a conditional clause, similar to how "if you want" might be used today. Over time, the phrase appears to have taken on a more figurative meaning,

Historical Example

"Gravity… depends entirely on the constant and efficacious, and, if you will, the supernatural and miraculous Influence of Almighty God."

- The New Theory of the Earth, William Whiston, 1696

10 Examples of "If You Will" in Sentences

Here are some examples of using the idiom in sentences:

  • John always talks about Susan as the one that got away, a lost love, if you will.
  • He has a unique style, a kind of flamboyant minimalism, if you will.
  • People often describe him as the devil incarnate, a personification of evil, if you will.
  • She is always so prim and proper, a model of good behavior, if you will.
  • Consider this book as a roadmap, if you will, to understanding the complexities of human nature.
  • The eagle has landed, if you will. The project was a success.
  • Unfortunately, he always ends up being the butt of the joke, if you will.
  • My work is my sanctuary, my personal Zen garden, if you will.
  • These little quirks are the spice of life, if you will.
  • My grandmother was a kind of local sage, an unofficial therapist, if you will.

Examples of "If You Will" in Pop Culture

The phrase "if you will" frequently appears in various pop culture mediums, often used to suggest a metaphor or novel interpretation of a term.

Let's examine some examples:

  • "Cast Me Out If You Will: Stories and Memoir" is a collection of short stories and autobiographical fragments by Lalithambika Antherjanam, a pioneering feminist writer from Kerala, India.
  • "My Vita, If You Will: The Uncollected Ed McClanahan" is an anthology of Ed McClanahan's essays, reviews, short stories, and novel excerpts, including early drafts.

Other/Different Ways to Say "If You Will"

There are several other expressions that can convey a similar meaning to "if you will."

Here are some of them:

  • So to speak
  • In a manner of speaking
  • As it were
  • To put it another way
  • For want of a better term

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "If You Will":

  • What does "if you will" mean?

"If you will" is used to suggest that a term or phrase is being used in a figurative, metaphorical, or non-standard way. It invites the listener to accept this usage within the context of the conversation.

  • How can I use "if you will" in a sentence?

You can use "if you will" after introducing a term or phrase, especially when you are using that term or phrase in a metaphorical, figurative, or unusual way. For example, "I think of this project as a labor of love, if you will."

  • Where does the phrase "if you will" come from?

The phrase "if you will" has been part of English language usage for centuries. It likely comes from the broader usage of "will" to mean "wish" or "desire," so "if you will" essentially means "if you wish" or "if you are willing."

  • Is "if you will" a formal term?

"If you will" is versatile and can be used in both formal and informal contexts. However, it is typically used in more sophisticated or intellectual discussions due to its nuanced meaning.

  • Does "if you will" only refer to metaphorical expressions?

No, "if you will" can be used to suggest a novel or non-standard usage of a term, whether or not that usage is specifically metaphorical. It can also be used to introduce analogies, analogies, or unusual descriptions.

  • Is the phrase redundant?

While it's not necessary to always use "if you will" when introducing a metaphor or unusual usage, it can help clarify the speaker's intent and ensure the listener understands the intended meaning. Therefore, it is not typically considered redundant.

  • Is it appropriate to use "if you will" in academic writing?

Yes, "if you will" can be used in academic writing to clarify when a term or phrase is being used in a non-standard way. However, like any rhetorical device, it should be used sparingly and purposefully.

  • Can you use it to introduce a question?

While less common, "if you will" can precede a question. For example, "If you will, could you consider this alternative interpretation?"

  • Does "if you will" have a sarcastic or condescending tone?

Not inherently, but like many phrases, "if you will" can take on different tones depending on the speaker's intent and the context of the conversation.

  • Are there any alternatives to "if you will" in conversation or writing?

Yes, alternatives include "so to speak," "in a manner of speaking," "as it were," "to put it another way," and "for want of a better term."

Final Thoughts About "If You Will"

"If you will" is an informal expression to represent something in a particular fashion. It indicates that the accompanying phrase is casual or improvised rather than literal.  It helps ensure the listener or reader understands the speaker's or writer's intent and encourages them to consider this unusual usage within the context of the conversation or piece of writing.

Here's a quick recap:

  • You may use it to introduce a non-standard, metaphorical, or figurative use of a term or phrase.
  • The phrase is versatile and applicable in both formal and informal contexts.
  • It is a useful rhetorical device that can clarify the speaker's or writer's intent and ensure the listener or reader understands the intended meaning.
  • However, you would not use it for precise or technical terms where exactness is required.

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