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

the rule states that 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 the main clause is about the past we use a modal with have. But If the main clause is about the present we use a present tense form or a modal without have.

Well, now how I know and distinguish between the main clause is about the past or the present in the following to apply the rule:

You could have stayed with us if you had come to London.
If you had done your homework you would know the answer.

Hello Ahmed,

I just wanted to point out our Conditionals 1 and 2 pages to you, which talk about much the same thing.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks Kirk, it is really useful.

Regards,

She'd probably come if you asked her nicely.

I have doubt that ,is it she would or she had???
Is this event in present tense.? And if yes, then would it be incorrect 'if you ask her nicely.

Hello Vickyy,

In this case, it is 'would', as this sentence is a second conditional form. See our Conditionals 1 page for an explanation. If you said 'If you ask her nicely', then it would be a first conditional (also explained on that same page) and so the other half would have to be 'she'll probably come'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear teacher, thanks for helping me figure it out. Yet I'd like to follow up on that question if you don't mind because I'm still confounded by another similar sentence which seems to have a different tense, which is " "I could have been watching that drama now, if the storm hadn't caused the power outage in the theater." My question is why would the author use now in this sentence? I'd imagine that we only use could have been+ing form when we are talking about a past event. I may be wrong about this; please explain it to me.

Plus, there is another baffling sentence that has me scratching my head, which is "Were they to have tried to block this, they would have been subject to all kinds of criticism." Is it talking about a fictional present situation or past one? Does this sentence make sense ?

Best regards.

Hello johnart,

This other sentence with 'I could have been watching' is also about an unreal time that includes the present moment and recent past. It's as if the speaker steps out of time for a moment to comment on a possibility in the present that is impossible due to the power outage. Since this time includes the present, 'now' is appropriate and even almost necessary, as that is what the sentence is fundamentally about. 

In the second sentence, which is a third conditional, 'were they to have tried to block this' is another way of saying 'if they had tried to block this'. It refers to an unreal past time and is perfectly correct. See our Conditionals 2 page for more on third conditionals.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, I'd like to pick someone's brain about the correctness of English usage in one sentence, which is "I could be watching that drama now, if the storm hadn't caused the power outage in the theater." Is it correct in terms of grammar usage and referring to the present? I'd be grateful if one of the teachers could help me suss it out. Thanks.

Hello johnart,

Yes, that is quite correct and describes an imaginary (non-real) present result [watching] of an alternate past [not having a power outage]. It is an example of what is sometimes called a mixed conditional sentence.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

"I would have got you a present if I had known it was your birthday"

" I would get you a present if I knew it was your birthday"

What's the difference between the two sentences?

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