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

Is it incorrect to say ' I come home when I finish ', "after they have dinner ,they go there." ?

Hello Xoxa,

That depends on the context and what you mean. If you're describing your daily routine, for example, then these sentences are correct. But if you're describing a plan you have for later today, then a different verb form is needed, e.g. 'I'm going to come home when I finish'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello,

I think there is a slip of the pen in this sentence:
"If Barcelona win tomorrow", isn't it "if Barcelone wins ..."

Greetings and Thx for the excellent site
Jurgen

Mixed Conditionals: I was given the following examples "If I didn't have so much holiday time (present unreal conditional) I wouldn't go (future unreal conditional) on that cruise with you next week. (Meaning - I do have a lot of holiday time, so I will go on that cruise): If I were rich, I would buy that Ferrari we saw last week - meaning I am not rich, so I didn't buy the Ferrari. But why is the present unreal conditional being written using the past tense)

Hello kelsopalma,

The first example sentence is not a mixed conditional, it's a second conditional - the verb after 'if' is in past simple and the other is 'would' + verb. It is correctly formed, though I'd recommend saying 'couldn't go' or 'wouldn't be able to go' instead of 'would go'. The original sentence was correct, but these alternate forms make it a bit clearer.

The second example sentence isn't a mixed conditional, either - like the first example, it's a second conditional, though this time it isn't correct since it refers to the past (because of the phrase 'last week'). What is needed here is a mixed second and third conditional with simple past after 'if' (the sentence is correct in this part) and 'would have' + past participle for the second verb: 'If I were rich, I would have bought the Ferrari we saw last week'. 

I hope that clarifies it for you; if not, please ask again.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

If I had been rich I would have bought ferrari we saw last night. Would it be correct to write with same meaning?? Or this sentence has some different meaning in comparison to above one.

Hello innocentashish420,

'If I were rich...' describes a general state - now and, presumably, also last night.

'If I had been rich...' describes the state only last night.

In some contexts these may be interchangeable; it depends upon the speaker's intention.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Speaker's intention means whichever form he wants to use in writing??

Hello innocentashish420,

'Speaker's intention' means what the speaker wishes to communicate: what they wish to emphasise, what information they wish to convey, which details they consider the most important.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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