greenmancon tal de que

The expression con tal (de) que often causes problems among advanced learners.

According to the RAE dictionary, it means 'en el caso de que, con la condición de que'.1  

For example, 'procuraré complacerte, con tal (de) que no me pidas cosas imposibles'

This use of the expression can be translated roughly as provided that/ as long as.

 

The problem, however, is that we often come across examples where 'provided that' just doesn't work. For example, 'es capaz de hacer cualquier cosa con tal de que la escuchen'.

In this kind of example it is clear that the second clause (being listened to) isn't so much a condition as a result or purpose, and it translates more like 'if it means that' or 'in order to/for'.

 

The reason for this confusion is that con tal de que actually has two possible meanings, depending on the context:

"Se caracteriza porque introduce el resultado de la acción o el proceso presentados en la oración principal [...] No obstante, la locución se admite en otros contextos si el estado de cosas que se presenta en la oración principal se considera necesario para obtener el resultado del que se habla".1-2

 

 

In both of the following examples there is a desired result, but only in the first example is the second clause a condition.

 1. Tanto me da una cosa que otra, con tal de que sea bonita y no muy vieja I don't mind what kind of thing it is, providing/as long as it's pretty and not too old (a condition that must be met)

 2.  Es capaz de hacer cualquier cosa con tal de que la escuchen She'll do pretty much anything if it means that people will listen to her (a purpose or result)

 

In most cases the context makes it clear whether a condition must be met; in others, though, there may be ambiguity:

Te doy mis libros con tal de que estudies más

1. I'll give you my books provided you study more  (only if you study more and in order for you to study more)

2. I'll give you my books if that means you'll study more  (I'll give you the books; my aim is for you to study more but it is not a condition to me giving you the books; there is an underlying cause-effect element)

 

Either way, the person is probably going to give the books since the condition doesn't have to be met first. 

 

When used with quantifiers or expressions such as cualquier cosa, lo que sea, todo lo posible, etc., which indicate that the speaker is prepared to go to relatively extreme measures to achieve the desired result, the meaning of purpose and result is more likely than the condition.

 "La situación que se expresa en la oración principal no tiene por qué ser extrema en sí misma, pero ha de entenderse que es compensado por el objetivo que se persigue".

Daría todo mi dinero con tal de que mis hijos fueran felices I would give away all my money if it meant my children were happy

Están dispuestos a hacer cualquier cosa con tal de vender sus productos They are prepared to do whatever it takes to sell their products/if it means getting their products sold

 

Although there is a cause-effect element to the expression, it is not the same as para que, which doesn't express the idea of being compensated for something. Furthermore, para que implies that the first action is necessary for the result to take place, while con tal de que implies that the person is prepared to do the first action if necessary in order to get the desired result, but it may not depend on this first action.

 

Compare:

Lo llamaré para que lo sepa  I'll call him so he knows (purpose, cause-effect)

Lo llamaré todas las veces posibles con tal de que venga I'll call him as many times as I can if that means he'll come (more purpose than condition; showing that the result is worth going to lengths to achieve)

Te invito a ti también con tal de que venga tu amiga You can come as well, provided that your friend comes to (condition implied by the speaker as well as purpose)

 

Estoy dispuesto a ayudar con tal de no volver a verlo nunca más I'm willing to help, provided that/if that means never seeing him again (purpose rather than condition; showing that the result is worth going to lengths to achieve)

 

Le dije lo que quería oír con tal de que me dejara en paz I told him what he wanted to hear to get him off my back (purpose more than condition)

Yo renuncio a ese dinero con tal de que salga adelante el proyecto I'm prepared to waive that money if it means the project going ahead (purpose more than condition; showing that the result is worth going to lengths to achieve)

 

En La Prensa

Ámbar lo sabe bien: está dispuesto a todo con tal de que Luna no conozca su secreto.  El Mundo-5 hours ago

Con tal de que los opositores «abandonen los caminos de la violencia y el golpismo», Maduro dijo estar preparado para «lo que diga el Poder Electoral y el diálogo». ABC.es-Apr 24, 2017

Lavrov dejó enorgullecer a Trump durante su conversación con tal de que el presidente tomara confianza; al estadounidense le gusta impresionar a sus visitantes.  El Economista-May 17, 2017

Ahora, un policía local puede retirarse a los 60 con tal de que haya cotizado durante 35 años. El Confidencial Digital-Apr 28, 2017

El trabajo que más disfruta es hacer cualquiera cosa con tal de que sus hijas más chicas se diviertan.  Diario El País-May 5, 2017 

Nos apuntamos a todas las manifestaciones y actos que sean necesarios con tal de que el alcalde nos escuche de una vez», dijo. La Opinión de Málaga-May 1, 2017

 

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