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

Thank you Mr.Peter M.

Excuse me.
I want to know whether these 2 sentences are different.
(1) If I am to see him, i need decent costumes.
(2) If I am going to see him, I need decent costumes.

Does "If I am to see him" means a condition in which he's arranged to meet him ?
Thank you very much

Hello frisky,

The meaning here is very similar but the first sentence suggests that the obligation to see him is not based upon a choice by the speaker but is rather imposed in some way. For example, it may be something that the speaker has been forced to do, or something that others pressure him to do. However, to be sure it would be necessary to see the context in which the sentences are used.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I will take the exam IELTS. What is the best way to use this sentence:
"I would not go there if I were you" or "I would not go there if I was you".
Thanks a lot for the help.

Hello Roberto 2015,

In modern English both 'was' and 'were' are acceptable here, though I think 'were' is generally considered to be better style and so I would use that.

As you are going to take the IELTS exam you might find our site for IELTS candidates helpful. It's called TakeIELTS and you can find it here. It has a lot of information about the exam, tips and suggestions and practice materials including mock exams and sample answers.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I have posted a comment but I forgot where I put that .if u already replied for that comment please u write that on this page cause I dont know the page where I have written that comment

Hello jino,

We reply to many comments every day so I'm not sure if your comment was replied to, and on which page. You can track your activity, I think: first click on your name to access your profile. Then choose 'Track' from the tabs and you should see all of the pages you have posted comments on recently. That should help you to find your comment.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello,

Can you tell me why it is "have had" in below sentence?

They are coming after they have had dinner.

According to rule shouldn't it be present tense with time word like "after"?

Thank you in advance
Oodailu

Hello Oodailu,

You could use 'have' instead of 'have had' and that would also be correct. Here the present perfect emphasises the completion of their dinner a bit more than just 'have', but otherwise they mean the same thing. 

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello. Sir, what is the diff between these sentences
If you hear about my death
If you heard about my death

I'd appreciate a reply. Thank you

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