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

Aren't both of the following correct when used in future and past respectively?
1)She might be more amenable to the idea if you explained how much money it would save.
2)She might be more amenable to the idea if you HAD explained how much money it would save.

Hi Andhrite,

Both of your sentences are correct, but have different meanings. 1 implies that you could still explain how much money could be saved, whereas 2 implies that you missed an opportunity to explain that to her in the past.

Is that what you mean?

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi there,

I understand that with 'when', 'as soon as' 'until' etc... we can use any present tense, however i am finding it difficult to adapt this rule to a verb in the present continuous. For example:
Until you go to the shop....
Until you've gone to the shop...
BUT
Until you are going to the shop... (this sounds wrong to me)

If the rules are that you can use any present tense after 'when', 'until' etc.. how can a non native English person know which is the correct present tense to use?

Thanks in advance!
Reyne :)

Hi r-defazio,

Yes, using the present continuous after 'until' would be unusual. As long as the time referred to is clear from the rest of the sentence, in the subordindate clause, a simple form (i.e. present simple instead of present continuous) is used instead of the present continuous. So, for example, 'You can't ride your bicycle until you go to the shop'.

Does that answer your question?

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Kirk,

Thanks for your reply. I'm still struggling a little in helping my students understand why we use choose the present tense we choose in a 'when' phrase. For example;
"you can go out and play when you have finished your dinner" (first you finish, then you can go)
"you can go out and play when you finish your dinner" (first you finish, then you can go)
BUT
"you can go out and play when you are finishing eating" IS WRONG
BUT
"i'll be home when you are finishing your dinner" IS CORRECT

So, i guess the meaning of the phrase needs to be understood, in order to know which present tense fits best!

Would you agree... Or am I totally off the track?

Thanks again!!
Reyne :)

Hi Reyne,

Yes, I can appreciate that this is difficult, but you've approached it in the right way. Really, 'you can go out and play when you are finishing eating' is grammatically possible (I imagine a 5-year-old boy running out the door towards his favourite climbing tree, taking a bit from a piece of bread); the meaning is just unusual, and that's why we consider it wrong, but really it is not.

As you say, the verb form we need to use is determined by the meaning we want to express.

Keep up the good work!

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Kirk!!

Thanks so much for your encouragement! I want to be able to provide my students with the most correct and concise answers, but sometimes I just have to say "guys, i'll have to get back to you on that one"....... Then jump on this super helpful site!

Until next time!

Reyne!!

Hello Dil Gill,

The answer to this is on the page above, and on the page you link to:

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

The past form here refers to future time; hence 'tomorrow' is used.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Thank you Sir,
but sir why now it is changed into 'come' on the above page

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