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Verbs in time clauses and 'if' clauses

Level: beginner

Verbs in time clauses and conditionals usually follow the same patterns as in other clauses but there are some differences when we:

  • talk about the future
  • make hypotheses.

Talking about the future

In time clauses with words like when, after and until, we often use present tense forms to talk about the future:

I'll come home when I finish work.
You must wait here until your father comes.
They are coming after they have had dinner.

In conditional clauses with words like if, unless, even if, we often use present tense forms to talk about the future:

We won't be able to go out if it is raining.
I will come tomorrow unless I have to look after the children.
Even if Barcelona lose tomorrow, they will still be champions.

We do not normally use will in time clauses and conditional clauses:

I'll come home when I finish work. (NOT will finish work)
We won't be able to go out if it rains. (NOT will rain)
It will be nice to see Peter when he gets home. (NOT will get home)
You must wait here until your father comes. (NOT will come)

but we can use will if it means want to or be willing to:

I will be very happy if you will come to my party.
We should finish the job early if George will help us.

Future time and conditional clauses 1

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Future time and conditional clauses 2

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Level: intermediate

Making hypotheses

Some conditional clauses are like hypotheses, so we use past tense forms.

We use past tense forms to talk about something that does not happen or is not happening in the present:

He could get a new job if he really tried.
        (= He cannot get a job because he has not tried.)
If Jack was playing, they would probably win.
        (= Jack is not playing so they will probably not win.)
If I had his address, I could write to him.
        (= I do not have his address so I cannot write to him.)

We use past tense forms to talk about something that we believe or know will not happen in the future:

We would go by train if it wasn't so expensive.
       (= We will not go by train because it is too expensive.)
I would look after the children for you at the weekend if I was at home.
       (= I cannot look after the children because I will not be at home.)

We use past tense forms to make suggestions about what might happen in the future:

If he came tomorrow, we could borrow his car.
If we invited John, Mary would bring Angela.

After I/he/she/it, we can use were instead of was:

If Jack was/were playing, they would probably win.
We would go by train if it wasn't/weren’t so expensive.
I would look after the children for you at the weekend if I was/were at home.

We use the past perfect to talk about something which did not happen in the past:

If you had seen him, you could have spoken to him.
        (= You did not see him so you could not speak to him.)
You could have stayed with us if you had come to London.
        (= You could not stay with us because you did not come to London.)
If we hadn't spent all our money, we could take a holiday.
        (= We have spent all our money so we cannot take a holiday.)
If I had got the job, we would be living in Paris.
        (= I did not get the job, so we are not living in Paris.)

If the main clause of a hypothetical conditional is about the present or future, we use a modal:

If I had got the job, we might be living in Paris now.
        (= I did not get the job so we are not living in Paris now.)
If you had done your homework, you would know the answer.
        (= You did not do your homework so you do not know the answer.)

If the main clause is about the past, we use a modal with have

If I had seen him, I would have spoken to him.
       (= I did not see him so I did not speak to him.)
You could have stayed with us if you had come to London.
       (= You could not stay with us because you did not come to London.)
If you had invited me, I might have come.
       (= You did not invite me so I did not come.)

Hypothetical conditionals: present/future 1

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Hypothetical conditionals: present/future 2

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Hypothetical conditionals: past 1

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Hypothetical conditionals: past 2

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Comments

Hello
Can you tell me the answer please
Which one is correct
There's/ there are no furniture in this room

Hello Samin,

'furniture' is an uncount noun and so 'there is' is the correct verb form here.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hallo sir,
Can I use 'if' for replacement of 'when' or 'as'
~ if he didn't work yesterday, he was probably ill.
~ as he didnt work yesterday, he was probably ill.

Are those sentences the same? If so, is there any reference for the grammar?
Thank you, sir

Hello Risa warysha,

All of the words (if, when and as) are possible in this example, but the meaning changes.

If tells us that you are not sure whether or not the man was working yesterday.

When tells us that you know he was not working, but are not sure whether or not he was ill.

As tells us that you are drawing a conclusion (that he was ill) from the fact that he was not working yesterday.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello team,
I've several questions.
e.g, I would not have asked her to come into work if I she was so ill.
From the previous sentence, I think the main clause is talking about the present, why 'have' is used?
e.g, We would have a lot more money nowadays if our flat hadn't been so
expensive.
I think the main clause is also related to present, why 'have' is used? Can I rewrite the sentences to:
e.g, We would get a lot of money nowadays if our flat hadn't been so
expensive.
OR
e.g, We might get a lot of money nowadays if our flat hadn't been so
expensive.
Thanks a lot.

I find this sentence odd: You could have stayed with us if you had come to London.

Why it's not: You could have stayed with us if you had came to London.

And can I say: You could have stayed with us had came to London.

Hi gsg238,

The first sentence is actually the correct one :)

In the second sentence, we can't say if you had came because after had, it must be the past participle form of the verb (come = past participle; came = past simple). This is a past perfect structure (see this page for more examples and explanation).

In the third sentence, the subject (you) is needed. It can't be omitted from the if-clause. We also need to add if. 

Alternatively, we can use this more formal form without if and with an inversion: You could have stayed with us had you come to London.

Does that make sense?

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The tip is really enormous and useful. Thanks.

Hi,

You mentioned that "Verbs in time clauses and conditionals usually follow the same patterns as in other clauses but there are some differences when we talk about the future or when we make hypotheses." By this, and with respect to time clauses, are you simply saying that when using time clauses to refer to the past, simply use simple past tense (as logically you would expect - for example "We had dinner before we watched the movie") and similarly use simple present tense in a time clause when you are referring to the present. In other words, we only need to ensure that time clauses referring to future time are in the simple present tense?

Regards,
Tim

Hello Tim,

Yes, that's right. When speaking about the past you could also use the past perfect or the past continuous, and when speaking about the present, the present continuous is also possible, but in these cases they are used in the normal way -- that is, not like the use of the present simple to speak about the future, for example.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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