Level: beginner

Verbs in time clauses and conditionals usually follow the same patterns as in other clauses but there are some differences when we:

  • talk about the future
  • make hypotheses.

Talking about the future

In time clauses with words like when, after and until, we often use 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 words like if, unless, even if, we often use present tense forms to talk about the future:

We won't be able to go out if it is raining.
I will come tomorrow unless I have to look after the children.
Even if Barcelona lose tomorrow, they will still be champions.

We do not normally use will in time clauses and conditional clauses:

I'll come home when I finish work. (NOT will finish work)
We won't be able to go out if it rains. (NOT will rain)
It will be nice to see Peter when he gets home. (NOT will get home)
You must wait here until you father comes. (NOT will come)

but we can use will if it means want to or be willing to:

I will be very happy if you will come to my party.
We should finish the job early if George will help us.

Future time and conditional clauses 1

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Future time and conditional clauses 2

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Level: intermediate

Making hypotheses

Some conditional clauses are like hypotheses, so we use past tense forms.

We use past tense forms to talk about something that does not happen or is not happening in the present:

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 past tense forms to talk about something that we believe or know will not happen in the future:

We would go by train if it wasn't so expensive.
       (= We will not 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 cannot look after the children because I will not be at home.)

We use past tense forms to make suggestions about what might happen in the future:

If he came tomorrow, we could borrow his car.
If we invited John, Mary would bring Angela.

After I/he/she/it, we can use were instead of was:

If Jack was/were playing, they would probably win.
We would go by train if it wasn't/weren’t so expensive.
I would look after the children for you at the weekend if I was/were at home.

We use the past perfect to talk about something which did not happen in the past:

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 could not stay with us because you did not come to London.)
If we hadn't spent all our money, we could take a holiday.
        (= We have spent all our money so we cannot 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 of a hypothetical conditional is about the present or future, we use a modal:

If I had got the job, we might 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.)

If the main clause is about the past, we use a modal with have

If I had seen him, I would have spoken to him.
       (= I did not see him so I did not speak to him.)
You could have stayed with us if you had come to London.
       (= You could not stay with us because you did not come to London.)
If you had invited me, I might have come.
       (= You did not invite me so I did not come.)

Hypothetical conditionals: present/future 1

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Hypothetical conditionals: present/future 2

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Hypothetical conditionals: past 1

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Hypothetical conditionals: past 2

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Comments

Hello Wanlidadi,

It is possible to use a modal verb after 'if'. When you use 'will' or 'would' after 'if' you add a sense of agreement. For example:

If you will go there, I will be grateful = If you agree to go there...

It can be used as a particularly polite form, or to emphasise that a person's agreement is required.

 

'If... can/could...' has a similar use. It means something like 'If it is/were possible...' and is a polite form.

 

'If you should choose...' is a very polite alternative to 'If you choose...' and makes the event (choosing) seem less likely. It has a similar meaning to 'If you happen to choose....'

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

thanks very much.I have been confused with this problem for long time.Now I learn a lot.

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

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