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 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

Hello saberlux,

The correct form here is 'when you are'. 'Going to', like 'will' is very rarely used after time words like 'when'.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

hello!
i have a question: is sentence like this correct?:
"what if we talking to him are just making it worse?"
can we use "-ing" aftef "what if"?
i'm not sure if it is the right place to ask this, but please i need to know!

Hello gorzki pies,

Yes, you can use an -ing form in this way -- it turns a verb into a noun. Normally we use pronouns in the object form, however, so you should say 'What if us talking to him'. This clause acts as the singular subject of the sentence, so the verb 'are' should be 'is': 'What if us talking to him is just making it worse'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

I have not understood use of us inplace of we ; we do not , generally , use of object of pronoun when it is the subject ( we talking ...) of the clause.

Please help.

Dear sir
"I will call you immediately when I will arrive."
Could I say to someone the sentence above as a promise?

When I need someone to promise me that he is coming with me so as I go there, could I say him the sentence below:
"I refuse to go there unless you will come with me."

Do the both sentences have any mistakes gramaticly?

Thanks in advance.

Hello Yasser Azizi,

After 'when' in these constructions we use a present form rather than 'will'. Thus the sentence would be as follows:

I will call you immediately when I arrive.

 

Similarly, after 'unless' we use a present form:

I refuse to go there unless you come with me.

However, the sentence sounds rather formal with the very strong word 'refuse'. A more colloquial way to say it would be this:

I'm not going there unless you come with me.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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