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 guddeti sahasra,

The difference is exactly what the name suggests: one describes a situation which really happened and the other describes an imaginary situation in the past.

If I had time I studied English.

The meaning here is that sometimes the speaker had time and sometimes they did not; when they had time they studied English.

If I had had time I would have studied English.

The meaning here is that the speaker did not have time, but is imagining an alternative past in which they had time.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

can we use past continuous with if clauses to speak in present
eg; ih she were coming, she would be here by now
if i was still working in london i would buy a car

Hello guddeti,

Yes, you can. In the table of example sentences in the "if" clauses and hypotheses section, the second sentence is another example of a sentence with this form. Although it doesn't mention the past continuous, the Second conditional section on our Conditionals 1 page has more on this structure in general.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

can we use different present forms with if clauses in competative exams as well as spoken english
eg: if i go to newyork i will buy a car
if he is feeling better,he will go to temple
if she has not heard the bad news yet,i will tell her

Hello guddeti sahasra,

Yes, it is quite possible to use different present forms in the if-clause of conditional sentences, and the forms retain their normal distinctions. Your examples are correct - well done.

Please note that we are a small team here at LearnEnglish and while we try to help with particular points of confusion for our users our primary role is to maintain the site and help with problems with our material. We cannot act as personal teachers for individual users, unfortunately. I notice that you have posted four quite detailed questions in a row on this page and I'm afraid it's just not possible for us to provide that kind of individual attention. We're happy, as I said, to help where we can, but please remember that we have many thousands of users on the site and many of them have questions for us, so our time is very limited!

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

can we use any tense of present tense with time words
1)we will buy a bus after we get money
2)we will buy a bus when we are getting money
3)we will buy a bus after we have got money
4)we will buy a bus when we have been getting money
which one is correct? how do we use these time words

Hello guddeti sahasra,

No, continuous forms aren't generally used here. There may be some situations when they're appropriate, but in general present simple or present perfect forms are used (as in sentences 1 and 3). In your sentences, for example, although the present perfect form puts more emphasis on the money already having been obtained, they mean the same thing. In general, the present simple is more common, as this kind of emphasis is less common than a general meaning.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

please explain this

If all those alleged of offences such as forgery, contractual disputes and cheque bounces are arrested, India would have more prisons than homes.
IS THIS SENTENCE CORRECT ? The if clause has simple past tense and the main clause has would+ infinitive construction.
The verb in the main clause should be would+ have + Past participle. Is it not?

Hello avnrao,

Yes, this is a somewhat odd combination; though sometimes native speakers use these forms, I would avoid this particular combination.

Typically, in a first conditional construction, a present simple verb in the 'if' clause is followed by 'will' + infinitive (though other forms are also possible) in the main clause -- in this case, it would be 'India will have ...'. In a second conditional construction, there are really only two forms that are possible in standard use: past simple in the 'if' clause and 'would' + infinitive -- in this case, 'If ... were arrested, India would have ...'.

You can read more about conditional constructions on our Conditionals 1 and 2 pages. But if you have any further questions after reading them, please don't hesitate to ask us again.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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