Yesterday I had private lessons with two students who were in form 6 and 7 respectively, and were thus reasonably advanced learners. Nevertheless, both students failed to distinguish between the meanings of even though and even if when they encountered them in an article. Therefore, I think it is justified to create a new category under the title “Contrastive Analysis,” dedicated to comparing various aspects of the English and Chinese grammars which differ from each other, as it will be of practical uses to Chinese learners of English, and possibly to English learners of Chinese as well.
In English, even though and even if are both used in conditional sentences of the form:
Even though / even if [something is true (Proposition A)], [something is not true (Proposition B)].
For instance, we can have:
1. Even though you have done very well in this examination, you should still work hard.
2. Even if you did very well in this examination, you would still not be able to enter that university.
The difference between these two constructions lies essentially in the nature of their respective Proposition A. For even though, Proposition A describes a fact or something that has already happened. We can alternatively rephrase (1) as:
3. Despite the fact that you have done very well in this examination, you should still work hard.
On ther other hand, even if contains a Proposition A that is either not true or a mere possibility. We may therefore rephrase (2) as:
4. Whether or not you did very well in this examination, you would still not be able to enter that university.
In other words, Proposition A in an even-though sentence describes a real situation (a realis condition) whereas that in an even-if sentence describes an imaginary situation (an irrealis condition). This distinction is often found in English and other European languages. For example, when an irrealis condition is described, the subjunctive mood is often used:
5. If I were you, I would not accept that.
6. It’s time we went home.
In (5), “I were you” is something that can never be true, it is only an imaginary situation. In (6), “we went home” represents a suggestion “let’s go home”. It is not something that has happened already, but merely a possibility.
In Chinese, however, this distinction is less common. The words 就算 or 即使 ‘even’, ‘let be’ can capture the meanings of both even though and even if, and this is the principal reason why many learners are unable to distinguish between the two. Even in normal if-conditional sentences, the distinction is not made.