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

MultipleChoice_MTY0Njc=

Future time and conditional clauses 2

GapFillTyping_MTY0Njg=

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

Matching_MTY0Njk=

Hypothetical conditionals: present/future 2

GapFillTyping_MTY0NzA=

Hypothetical conditionals: past 1

Matching_MTY0NzE=

Hypothetical conditionals: past 2

GapFillTyping_MTY0NzI=

Comments

Hello fahri,

You can see examples of past forms used with a future meaning on the page:

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)

 

Both of these describe hypothetical future actions using past forms.

 

The difference between the two sentences you have is that one (with 'will' and 'is') describes a situation which is possible and/or likely. The other (with 'would' and 'was') describes a situation which is hypothetical and so impossible and/or very unlikely in the view of the speaker. These are examples of what are sometimes called first and second conditional structures and you can read more about them on this page.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello,
conditional-1 is used for real situation, conditional-2 is used for unreal or impossible situation(hypotheses, imagine). both are the output of mental work, i cannot easily recognize some situation is real or unreal. what is the key? My angle must be wrong.

If I met Einstein in the street tomorrow, I would get frightened.(This is clear, impossible, unreal)
If i had a lot of money now, I would buy a big house (This is clear, the fact is that i don't have now)
If I won a lot of money, I would buy a big house (this is not clear. because people win lotteries everyday, from my perspective, this is a real situation and possible. If I were the speaker, I would say: If I win a lot of money, i will buy a big house, I am serious.)

Hello sword_yao,

Whether you use the first or second conditional is your decision. If, in your perspective, it's likely that you will win the lottery, then you should use the first conditional instead of the second.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

many thanks, Kirk.

A situation is real or unreal? I thought there was a common objective criteria to judge.

Now I know both first and second conditional are almost possible, it depends on the speaker. If the speaker thinks it is likely, then first conditional is used; If unlikely, then second is used.

Hello again sword_yao,

You're welcome. It's not that using the second conditional means that you view a situation as unreal. Using the second conditional might mean that you view it as unreal, or it might simply mean that you view it as very unlikely -- the statement by itself can be ambiguous. 

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello,

If he came tomorrow we could borrow his car.
If he come tomorrow we could borrow his car.
Does these sentences have the same meaning?

Hello Ola Jamal,

The first sentence describes a situation which you think is rather unlikely. You are describing an imaginary future, not one you expect to be true.

The second sentence is not correct grammatically. You could say 'If he comes tomorrow we will be able to borrow his car', which would be a sentence describing something that you expect to happen. In this sentence you are saying that there is a good chance that he will come.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I have realised the different. Thank you Mr Peter M.

Hello again,
'I’ll come home when I finish work'- if I change this example for
' I’ll come home when I have finished work', - would the sentence change the meaning in any way,or would emphasise(imply) another point?

I got it, thanks a lot Kirk.

Pages