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Verbs in time clauses and 'if' clauses

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

I asked my students to write a text about their plans for the next day. The situation is: they're staying in London and planning their activities for the next day. Obviously, this is meant to test the use of going to. But now as I'm reading my students texts I find it very clumsy to use going to in each and every sentence. Some of my students sometimes use the simple present instead which I like, but I don't know if this is correct. And they haven't learned to use the present continuous for talking about arrangements. So: my question is: Is it ok to alternate between going to and simple present to talk about your plans when the situation is clear?

Hello Renate

It could be correct to use the present simple to speak about the future, but it really depends on how specifically you do it. For example, you could say 'We have tickets to visit London Bridge at 10'. In this case, the verb refers to the present (we have the tickets right now), but clearly the sentence is about the future. Or you could say 'We plan to visit St Paul's after lunch' or 'We want to have lunch near Piccadilly Circus' -- again, here the verbs refer to now, but clearly the sentence is about the future.

When you do get to teaching them about other verb forms to speak about the future, be sure to check out our Future plans page, where we've tried to present this as simply and clearly as possible.

Does that help?

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear teacher, i know it is difficult for me to understand conditionals, but

Am i right, hypothetical conditional is when speaker thinks that the situation he is speaking out is impossible or won't happen now or in the future?! If so, then in my previous question the speaker thinks that students won't go to a hospital. Or if he thinks that we might go some day in the future to a hospital then why dont he use will, because it is possible that we may be sick in the future?
Can we use would to express possible future situations and impossible ones?
Sorry, please explain one more time for me. I know it is easy for you but for me not.

Hello again Yerlan,

A hypothetical situation is one which the speaker does not consider a real possibility. It may be impossible or simply extremely unlikely in the speaker's view. You can contrast this with real or likely conditional forms:

This English topic lesson was requested a few times last week as many people who are learning English are curious to know the things they will need to be able to say when visiting a hospital and talking to a doctor or nurse.

Here, the speaker sees the situation (the need) as something real. The speaker thinks that there is a good chance of this situation happening.

 

This English topic lesson was requested a few times last week as many people who are learning English are curious to know the things they would need to be able to say when visiting a hospital and talking to a doctor or nurse.

Here, the speaker does not expect that the situation will occur, and is giving this information which assuming that it is very unlikely to be needed. The situation is possible but not likely, in the speaker's view.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, dear teacher

I have a question, in the sentence below what time frame reference is used to? I mean is it a hypothetical future time or present. If it is a hypothetical conditional sentence then speaker doesn't expect the situation to happen. Please, could you explain the rule clearly for me this use of would?

"This English topic lesson was requested a few times last week as many people who are learning English are curious to know the things they would need to be able to say when visiting a hospital and talking to a doctor or nurse."

Hello Yerlan,

Would is used in the sentence as the situation described is hypothetical, as you say. Nobody is actually going to a hospital, but they may do so in the future.

If a person were definitely going to visit a hospital then you could use will:

...the things they will need to be able to say when visiting...

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Good day, dear teacher

Are these sentences the same, i mean are the time frame of reference of the main clauses of these sentences the same?
Are the main clauses of the sentences refer to the present time?

Sentences:

I would have been sitting on that seat if I hadn't been late for the party.

and

I would be sitting on that seat if I hadn't been late for the party

Do i understand the meaning of these sentences correctly?! A man is sitting in the party and says if he had came to the party earlier he would be sitting on that seat right now. Or the first sentences refer to past, i mean a man thins that for example yesterday if he had came to the party earlier then he would have been sittin on that seat.

Thak you and sorry for long writing, i did what i could.

Hello Yerlan

In the first sentence (with 'would have been'), it sounds as if he is thinking about the past, for example, yesterday. I suppose that in some very specific situation, it could be that he is at the party at the time of speaking, but in general if he is at the party now, the second sentence is the one he would use to speak about the present time.

Your question was very clear -- good job explaining it!

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, Our Gold and dear teacher

Please, could you expalain this sentence

I understand every word in this sentence but can't connect them together to reach the meaning

The sentence is:

At this moment I will tolerate no dissent. (strong volition)

Hello Yerlan,

The sentence can be paraphrased as follows:

Right now I won't accept any disagreement.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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