“If—” by Rudyard Kipling

A while ago I posted a lengthy grammar article about the conditional sentences in English, and in this post we’ll read a poem by Rudyard Kipling that can be used to illustrate conditional clauses. It has some great vocabulary, too. (Not to mention lofty ideas!)

Rudyard and John Kipling

Titled “If—”, Kipling wrote this poem c. 1895 in the form of advice addressed to his son John. During the course of the 20th century, it was often cited as the literary embodiment of the Victorian notions of manhood and British stiff-upper-lip stoicism. As such, it has been praised by some and relentlessly parodied by others. Regardless of divided opinions, it remains well-known and often quoted from.

Students and teachers can use this poem to discuss a range of topics and ideas, not just grammar. You will find some of my suggestions below, as well as the links to additional resources on Rudyard Kipling, his literary legacy, and this poem in particular.

If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated don't give way to hating,
    And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same:
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    ⁠And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    ⁠Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
    ⁠And—which is more—you'll be a Man, my son!


  • analyse the conditional clauses and determine which type of the conditional sentences is used throughout the poem
  • use stanza 1 to brainstorm / elicit antonyms
  • find useful ‘chunks of language’ and expressions such as ‘to keep (or lose) one’s head’, ‘make allowance for’, ‘(never) breathe a word about’, ‘lose the common touch’, etc.
  • use portions of the poem as discussion points in speaking practice, or as topics for writing assignments
  • discuss the idea(l)s of masculinity espoused by Kipling in this poem; do they still hold? If the poem sounds too sexist, ask students what changes they would make.


Kipling kept his head when replying to feminist (an article in the Irish Times)

Line-by-line analysis of “If—”

Rudyard Kipling (entry in the Encyclopaedia Britannica)

Solving the mystery of Rudyard Kipling’s son (a BBC News article)

Cover photo credit: Yogendra Singh via Pexel

4 Replies to ““If—” by Rudyard Kipling”

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