Can 'before' be used as 'if' in a conditional clause

Hi everyone,

Last night I was watching an episode of ‘Are You Being Served.’

Miss Brahms and Mrs Slocombe:

  • MB: I handle men like fruit machines.
  • MS: Explain that to me, will you?
  • MB: When they win, they keep wanting to win the jackpot.
  • MS: Well, they’d have to pull the handle a lot of times before they got my cherries up!

I’m a bit troubled with the underlined sentence, although it doesn’t sound wrong. Can you also say: Well, they’d have to pull the handle a lot of times if they wanted to get my cherries up! If that is possible, is there no or little difference in meaning?



Clearly ‘if’ and ‘before’ in that particular sentence do point roughly in the same direction but the two words are obviously distinctly different. I should also point out that there is innuendo in that comment made by Mrs S. Let me choose another sentence: You would have to drink a lot of that liquid before you experienced any ill effects. That sentence shows the distinction and doesn’t indicate any conditional ‘if’. It means that the possibility of being ill is unlikely except after excessive drinking of the liquid.


Thanks Alan!