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

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Comments

Hello, I have a question regarding the use of were with all pronouns. I'm studying with the Longman complete course for TOEFEL preparation and in skill 18 invert the subject and verb with conditionals I have two examples that uses "were" as helping verb with I and he, when I know that "was" is for "I and he". Does this rules don't apply in this case? If so, why? I'm having troubles to understand the why. Thank you

Hello Miss Salinas,

The use of were instead of was in conditional forms is slowly changing. In the past were was the only correct form, so we would say:

If I were you, ...

Were I you, ...

 

In modern English the use of was is more accepted, especially in spoken English, though some consider it poor style. However, we still do not use was in inverted sentences of this type:

If I were you, ... [correct]

If I was you, ... [correct, but still seen as non-standard or poor style by many]

Were I you, ... [correct]

Was I you, ... [incorrect]

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team  

Thank you so much, Peter! This clarifies my doubt because I was looking for a different set of rules to use were as a helping verb, but I always came back to was / were.

Have a great day!

Which is correct: If I was very ill,I would go to the doctor.
or
If I were very ill,I would go to the doctor.

Hello Hamdy Ali,

The second form ('were') used to be the only correct form but this has changed over time and you can now hear both used quite often and both are acceptable. Some people still consider the first to be poor style, however.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello.
Is this conditional correct?
When I am going to the seaside, I'll take you with me.
It sounds a little bit akward.
(I understood that we could use both aspects simple or continuous in 'if clause', type 1).
Thanks.

Hello Marua,

The sentence is correct. We use 'when' in cases where the condition is certain to happen. The awkwardness comes from the use of the continuous form (I'm going) rather than the simple form (I go):

When I go to the seaside, I'll take you with me.

When I'm going to the seaside, I'll take you with me.

 

The simple form is much more likely but we can use the continuous form to indicate a plan. It gives the sense of 'The next time I'm planning to go to...'

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello!
When you say "In clauses with time words like when, after, until we often use the present tense forms to talk about the future"... What about "to be going to" forms? Could it be used in such sentences?

Thank you.
for example, shall I say:
A. Ask the doctor when you are going to be able to travel.
B. Ask the doctor when you are able to travel.

Thanks

Hello saberlux,

The correct form here is 'when you are'. 'Going to', like 'will' is very rarely used after time words like 'when'.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

hello!
i have a question: is sentence like this correct?:
"what if we talking to him are just making it worse?"
can we use "-ing" aftef "what if"?
i'm not sure if it is the right place to ask this, but please i need to know!

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