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


Future time and conditional clauses 2


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


Hypothetical conditionals: present/future 2


Hypothetical conditionals: past 1


Hypothetical conditionals: past 2



Hello Vectrum,
As you can see, Peter answered your question the day after you asked it. If you are looking for a faster response than that, I think you will probably have to pay a teacher or linguist to help you.
We have millions of users here at LearnEnglish and we are only a small team. It simply isn't possible for us to answer every question quickly - or even to answer every question. We do our best, but we don't want you to expect too much.
Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

I apologize.
I failed to notice the answer/reply Peter posted for me and I became little impatient because I haven't got answers to couple of questions I posted so I thought I would not get the answer this time as well so I wrote it in haste.
I am a sensible person. I don't expect too much. I know you have got a limited capacity to support the users.
with due apology,

Hello Vectrum,
There's no need to apologise! We're very happy that you're so keen to make the most of LearnEnglish, but I wanted to be sure you understood why you don't always get quick answers to your questions.
Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

I was asked by a fellow Vietnamese teacher to listen to an audio recording and then provide the conversation in written form. I replied by email and wrote in present tense:
The recording is very long and I don't have that much free time, but if there are
any words in the recording that you can't understand send me the time that they are played at and I will supply them for you.
For example at 05:41 in the recording he says "shoot my mouth off"
My question is, have I made a mistake by saying ...are played at...?
Of course played is past tense, but to me it sounds correct.
Thanks in advance for your help.

Hello lexeus,
You are quite right to use this form.  However, it is not in fact a past tense, but a past participle which is used as part of a present simple passive verb form:
passive forms are made with be + past participle
here we have are played
I hope that clarifies it for you.
Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Peter,
thank you for your reply.

I've heard that there's a several usage of archaic subjunctive expression in modern English, like 'go where he will, he will be hailed' or 'let him go where he will, he will be hailed'.. etc. I'm EFL student, and so, recently, I'm having a great trouble in scrutinizing those sentences. So could you change some archaic subjunctive sentences into modern subjunctive sentences?? like       suffice it to say     ---->               it suffice to say                                                   here are the sentences;so be it(and also, be it so), let him go where he will, he will be hailed., albeit(which is an abbreviated form of 'although be it'), and be that as it may. Well, as for the last expression, some people say it's an inverted sentence of 'as it may be that', where 'as' is used as 'though', and other people say it's inverted sentence for, as it were, 'archaic subjunctive'. To see native speakers refer to them as 'fixed expression', it seems like I've got to just use all of them as an idiom, but I sort of obsessed, so I'm going to wait your acumen.

Hello alyuuv,
I appreciate your interest and I think it's good to see someone so motivated!  However, for detailed answers to your questions I think you need to ask your teacher.  We're a small team here on LearnEnglish and we have to deal with many questions every day, so it's just not possible for us to go into such detail.  
I will make one point which is relevant here.  It is not only native speakers who describe certain phrases as 'fixed expressions'.  It is a well-understood and accepted term in linguistic study and an important concept.  For example, 'suffice (it) to say' is archaic in structure, but is perfectly acceptable in modern use.  Your 'modern' version ('it suffice to say') would be immediately recognisable as a non-standard form - it would stand out as odd or clumsy.  In other words, 'fixed expressions' exist and, generally speaking, trying to change them, even with the intention of modernising them, tends to result in unnatural and inelegant language.
I hope that helps to clarify the issue for you.
Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Sir,
For the following example
A : Do you know where the nearest bank is?
B : Yes. If you turn right at the traffic lights, you will see on your left.
I wonder why we can't answer you see (Type 0) instead of you will see (type 1) because i think it is something that is always true (type 0) than possible situation (type 1). Could you please clarify this for me? I really confuse about type 0 ( which is not law of nature, in this case it is easily to classify.) and type 1.
Thank you for your reply

Hello supamas,
This is an interesting question which I haven't thought about before - thank you.  
The first thing to note is that with functional language (such as giving directions) there are often conventions which grow up over time which do not necessarily fit traditional grammar or vocabulary rules.  An example is the fact that we can say 'go up the road' and 'go down the road' with exactly the same meaning!  
However, here I think there is a grammatical reason for the use of the 'will' form.  The zero conditional structure is used, as you say, for things that are always true, but it also usually carries a sense of generality - something that is true of things in general.  For example, if I say
'If you water plants, they grow'
then I am talking about plants in general - all plants, not a specific plant.  If I am talking about a specific plant then I am much more likely to use a first conditional structure:
'If you water that plant, it will grow'.
In your example, you are not talking about all traffic lights but a particular set, and so a first conditional form is more likely.  That's not to say the alternative is wrong, but it would be less likely in standard use.
I hope that answers your question.
Best wishes,
The LearnEnglish Team