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

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?

Hello chancornelius,

In the first sentence the birthday has already passed and the speaker is presumably apologising for not getting a present for the person celebrating the birthday.

In the second sentence the speaker is talking about a hypothetical situation. It is not anyone's birthday but the speaker is describing how they would behave if there were a birthday.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi

Can I say "I would get you a present if I knew it is your B-day"?

Thx

Hello chancornelius,

It's almost correct - you just need to change 'is' to 'was'. Since you use the past simple form 'knew', you need to use the past simple form 'was' along with it.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello! everyone,
i'm confused about the clause below it sound like something is wrong

If he came tomorrow we could borrow his car.
i think should be come not "came"

Hello mcuambe,

You could use either 'come' or 'came' here. Using 'come', it would be a first conditional sentence and using 'came' it would be second conditional. See our Conditionals page for more on this.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Pages