Verbs in time clauses and conditionals follow the same patterns as in other clauses except:

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

We won’t be able to go out if it is raining.
If Barcelona win tomorrow they will be champions.
I will come tomorrow unless I have to look after the children.

  • We do not normally use will in clauses with if or with time words:

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

  • but we can use will if it means a promise or offer:

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


"if" clauses and hypotheses

Some clauses with if are like hypotheses so we use past tense forms to talk about the present and future.

We use the past tense forms to talk about the present in clauses with if :

  • for something that has not happened or is not happening:
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 the past tense forms to talk about the future in clauses with if:

  • for something that we believe or know will not happen:

 

We would go by train if it wasn’t so expensive  = We won’t 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 can’t look after the children because I will not be at home.

 

  •  to make suggestions about what might happen:

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

When we are talking about something which did not happen in the past we use the past perfect in the if clause and a modal verb in the main clause:

 

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 couldn’t stay with us because you didn’t come to London.
If we hadn’t spent all our money we could take a holiday.  = We have spent all our money so we can’t 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 is about the past we use a modal with have

 

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 couldn’t stay with us because you didn’t come to London.
If you had invited me I might have come.  = You didn’t invite me so I didn’t come.

 

If the main clause is about the present we use a present tense form or a modal without have:

 

If I had got the job we would 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.

 

 

Exercise

Exercise

Section: 

Comments

Hello,
conditional-1 is used for real situation, conditional-2 is used for unreal or impossible situation(hypotheses, imagine). both are the output of mental work, i cannot easily recognize some situation is real or unreal. what is the key? My angle must be wrong.

If I met Einstein in the street tomorrow, I would get frightened.(This is clear, impossible, unreal)
If i had a lot of money now, I would buy a big house (This is clear, the fact is that i don't have now)
If I won a lot of money, I would buy a big house (this is not clear. because people win lotteries everyday, from my perspective, this is a real situation and possible. If I were the speaker, I would say: If I win a lot of money, i will buy a big house, I am serious.)

Hello sword_yao,

Whether you use the first or second conditional is your decision. If, in your perspective, it's likely that you will win the lottery, then you should use the first conditional instead of the second.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

many thanks, Kirk.

A situation is real or unreal? I thought there was a common objective criteria to judge.

Now I know both first and second conditional are almost possible, it depends on the speaker. If the speaker thinks it is likely, then first conditional is used; If unlikely, then second is used.

Hello again sword_yao,

You're welcome. It's not that using the second conditional means that you view a situation as unreal. Using the second conditional might mean that you view it as unreal, or it might simply mean that you view it as very unlikely -- the statement by itself can be ambiguous. 

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello,

If he came tomorrow we could borrow his car.
If he come tomorrow we could borrow his car.
Does these sentences have the same meaning?

Hello Ola Jamal,

The first sentence describes a situation which you think is rather unlikely. You are describing an imaginary future, not one you expect to be true.

The second sentence is not correct grammatically. You could say 'If he comes tomorrow we will be able to borrow his car', which would be a sentence describing something that you expect to happen. In this sentence you are saying that there is a good chance that he will come.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I have realised the different. Thank you Mr Peter M.

Hello again,
'I’ll come home when I finish work'- if I change this example for
' I’ll come home when I have finished work', - would the sentence change the meaning in any way,or would emphasise(imply) another point?

I got it, thanks a lot Kirk.

Hello Slava,

No, there's no difference in meaning and both are correct. The present perfect form puts more emphasis on work being finished, but this kind of emphasis is a bit redundant here. 

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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