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 Tad90,

You've used the third conditional structure correctly to express what you describe, so good work on that count. I'd recommend, however, that you say 'in Paris in 2010' instead of 'in 2010 in Paris' (normally prepositional phrases of location come before prepositional phrases of time) and that you say 'from then' instead of 'since then'. But even without these changes, your sentence makes perfect sense -- it will just sound a bit more natural with these changes.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

 

Hi!
Which one is correct?
At the time my favourite TV program is on, I will be doing my home assignment.
Or
At the time my favourite TV program is on, I will have done my home assignment.

Hello katichka2003,

Both sentences are possible. The first strikes me as more likely but the second is not incorrect. Of course, there is a difference in meaning.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi,

i will like to know the difference between these two statements:
1. If Barcenola win tomorrow they will be champions
2. If Barcelona won tomorrow they would be champions

Hello Olayemite,

1 is a first conditional construction and 2 is a second conditional construction. Both of these are explained on our Conditionals 1 page. Please take a look and if you have any questions after reading the explanation there, please let us know!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

I've doubts for the last point,
"If the main clause is about the present we use a present tense form or a modal without have:" stated in this article.

How do you use present tense form in main clause for "If" clause (did not happen in the past)?

Hello CareBears07,

We can use if-clauses about the past to talk about real and unreal situations. Compare the following:

If you had done your homework, you would know the answers.

Here you did not do your homework (unreal past) and you do not know the answers (unreal present).

 

If you did your homework, you know the answers.

Here you did the homework (real past) and you know the answers (real present). The verb in the main clause here is a present form.

 

A context for these sentences might be a teacher talking to a student. The first sentence would be used if the student did not do the homework and the teacher is critical of the student. The second sentence would be used if the student did the homework and the teacher was trying to encourage the students, telling him or her that the exercise was not too difficult because the student had done the homework.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Sir,
I do we say that 'If you did the homework' is for real past; can it not be unreal present and that is why past tense (did) might have been used . How do we differntiate between the 2 cases ?

Please help.

Hello dipakrgandhi

In this case, the verb form in the other clause is what tells you whether 'did' is being used to speak about a real past or about an unreal present. Since the other verb form is 'you know', it cannot be an unreal present, because the form used in a conditional structure here is 'you would know'.

It's quite common in Western European languages for a past form to be used to speak about an unreal past. There are probably historical reasons for this, but I'm afraid we don't go into that on this website.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

If you'd followed the recipe the cake wouldn't be such a disaster.
WHY not: If you'd followed the recipe the cake wouldn't have been such a disaster (III conditional)

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