Verbs in time clauses and 'if' clauses

Learn about verbs in time clauses and conditionals and do the exercises to practise using them.

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 your 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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Submitted by Dukul on Sat, 23/05/2020 - 11:19

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Why is "would" used instead of "will" in these following sentences? 1) ...some government officials and financial investors are beginning to worry that the Chinese currency may also be devalued. If that happens, it would likely start a new round of further devaluations in Thailand, Indonesia, and other countries that compete with China. 2) He told the Sunday Herald that if the court decides not to sit on Fridays, he would support the decision. 3) That new customer may spend thousands of dollars with your company over the next several years. If that happens, it would really be worth the investment, wouldn't it? 4) ''Are they really going to shut us down in the middle of the winter?'' he said. ''If they do, it would be a total social disaster.'' 5) Sony is so far behind in the market that it has been forced to strike a joint venture with Samsung under which the South Korean company - and rival - would provide it with a steady stream of LCD panels for TVs that should make it competitive with market leaders.

Submitted by CareBears07 on Fri, 22/05/2020 - 15:31

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Hi, I have come across sentences using past tense in if-clause and present tense in the main clause, such as: 1) A hamster is pregnant for only about three weeks and up to 20 babies can seemingly appear overnight in a hamster's nest if you didn't know your hamster was pregnant. 2) Hamsters will eat more when they are pregnant and nursing, but otherwise their diet will remain the same as if they weren't. Are they grammatically correct and do you classify them as "mixed conditionals"?

Hi CareBears07,

The first sentence does not read well, I think. It is mixing general statements about hamsters with a specific and particular situation, which is inconsistent. You could argue that there is an implied result clause which is omitted, however:

A hamster is pregnant for only about three weeks and up to 20 babies can seemingly appear overnight in a hamster's nest as they would/might if you didn't know your hamster was pregnant.

 

The second example has a hidden result clause. The full sentence would be as follows:

Hamsters will eat more when they are pregnant and nursing, but otherwise their diet will remain the same as it would be if they weren't (pregnant).

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Peter, thanks for your prompt explanation. It seems such omissions are common in articles using American English, which at times runs in conflict with the grammar rules of British English. :(

Hi CareBears07,

I wouldn't say that there is a conflict with the grammatical rules, or rather I would say that any conflict is only superficial and disappears on closer inspection and consideration.

 

Language is a tool for expression and communication. Style is as much a part of that as grammar. Where omitting phrases or words causes ambiguity or a lack of clarity it may be problematic (unless the speaker desires ambiguity), but I don't think either of your examples were difficult to understand, even if the underlying grammatical struture was not immediately apparent.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dean on Wed, 06/05/2020 - 10:46

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Can you Please explain this taken from a TedTalk. Ideally, you would not be satisfied until you had actually done the work.

Hello Dean

This sentence is talking about a hypothetical or imaginary situation. This is clear from the use of 'Ideally' and especially from 'would not be' and 'had done'. 'had done' refers to an imagined time when the work is already done, and 'would' refers to a time after that.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Aabida on Wed, 22/04/2020 - 08:05

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Dear, could you tell me more about if +will/would clauses. For example: If Krystal will meet us at the airport, it will save a lot of time. If you would all stop laughing, I will explain the situation!

Hello Aabida,

It's unusual to use will or would in the if-clause.  Generally, a present or past form is used in the if-clause and a modal verb in the main clause. However, it is possible to use a modal verb in the if-clause to give a sense of agreement or acceptance. This can be a way of making the sentence very polite, or else adding emphasis or irritation through sarcastic politeness, depending on the context:

If sir and madam will come this way, I'll show you to your seat. (a very polite waiter in a posh restaurant)

If you will stop talking, we'll be able to continue! (an irritated teacher to an unruly class)

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Renate on Sun, 22/03/2020 - 10:24

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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

Submitted by Yerlan on Tue, 25/02/2020 - 15:08

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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

Hi Peter, I noticed you wrote, "are curious to know the things they would need to be able to say when visiting a hospital " - I have two questions. Does the question of "unlikely or likely to happen" refer to the result part (be able to say) or to the conditional part (the going to hospital)?
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Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 14/05/2020 - 06:42

In reply to by Dean

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Hello Dean,

In conditional sentences, the likely/unlikely aspect relates to the condition, not the result. The result may be certain if the conditon is fulfilled, but the condition itself may be extremely unlikely. For example:

If the sun exploded, we would all die.

Everyone dying in this situation is certain; the sun exploding is, happily, extremely unlikely.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Yerlan on Mon, 24/02/2020 - 08:57

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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

Submitted by Yerlan on Tue, 18/02/2020 - 18:31

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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

Submitted by Yerlan on Mon, 17/02/2020 - 18:25

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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

Submitted by Yerlan on Tue, 04/02/2020 - 15:13

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Hello Dear Teacher, Please, tell me the tense of these sentences they refer to. Is it past counterfactual or present one? When do we use this forma with "would" in If-sentences like these and about differences between two of them. I have read about the usage of it in wikipedia, but not clearly understood it. "If you would listen to me once in a while, you might learn something." "If it would make Bill happy, I would give him the money."

Hello Yerlan,

The modal verbs will and would can be used in if-clauses when we are talking about a person's willingness to do something. For example:

If you give John the money, he will be happy.

if you give John describes an event which may or may not happen

If you will give John the money, he will be happy.

if you will give John describes an event which you may or may not agree to; it means something like if you agree to give John or if you are willing to give John.

 

The use of would is similar. It can be a more polite form or it may imply a little more scepticism on the part of the speaker.

 

You can read more about this topic here:

https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/61299/if-i-go-vs-if-i-will-go-referring-to-the-future/61308#61308

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Laraliini on Mon, 04/11/2019 - 12:51

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In reference to my earlier comment. So, I meant by those sentences that if I hadn't left to study abroad, I wouldn't have known how I will get along there. Does it make sense?

Hello again Laraliini,

Thanks for the clarification. Your knowledge is a present fact, so we would use a form like this:

If I hadn't left to study abroad, I wouldn't know how I would have got along there.

an unreal past condition > an unreal present result with reference to an unreal past event

 

You could use a different verb which denotes a past event rather than a present state. For example, your knowledge is current, but the act of getting the knowledge is in the past:

If I hadn't left to study abroad, I wouldn't have found out how I would have got along there.

an unreal past condition > an unreal past result with reference to an unreal past event

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Laraliini on Sun, 03/11/2019 - 20:28

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Hi, Which one of the following sentences is correct: 1. If I hadn't gone on exchange, I wouldn't have known what it's going to be. 2. If I hadn't gone on exchange, I wouldn't know what it would have been. Or can you say number 1. also like: If I hadn't gone on exchange, I wouldn't have known what it would have been? Or are there some other options? Thank you!
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Submitted by Peter M. on Mon, 04/11/2019 - 07:06

In reply to by Laraliini

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Hello Laraliini,

None of those look correct to me, but I don't know what you are trying to say and what the context is so it's difficult to say very much at all. Even if a form is grammatically possible, it may not express what you want it to express.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Patricia31 on Sat, 02/11/2019 - 08:23

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Hello Peter , thank you very much for your explaination.

Submitted by Patricia31 on Wed, 30/10/2019 - 09:26

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Good morning, Can we use future simple with will (instead of would) in the main clause with the if clause at the third conditional ? Ex if you have enjoyed your holidays I will be happy ? Are mixed contionals available by mixing the first , second and third Thank you !

Hello Patricia31,

Your sentence is not a third conditional, but a first conditional with a present perfect form in the if-clause:

If you have enjoyed your holidays I will be happy?

if + present perfect (then) will + verb

 

Using a present perfect in the if-clause (rather than a present simple form) makes the if-clause refer to an event which has already taken place and has a present result rather than one which is yet to take place.

 

The terms first, second and third conditionals do not really represent grammatical rules, but rather common patterns. Provided the two halves of a conditional sentence are coherent in terms of time (the cause must be before the result) and reality (you cannot mix a hypothetical cause with a real result, for example), you can use any pattern.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by rosario70 on Fri, 11/10/2019 - 18:48

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Hello teachers you are always a great help for me. I often come across this use of the second conditional: If i were to drink too much i might feel sick and throw up. I think it is less formal than the following: if i drank too much i might feel sick and throw up. i wonder if my suggestion is correct and i got it! Thanks

Hello rosario70,

The if... were to... version is a little more formal than the form with the past simple.

The most important difference between the two forms, however, is that the past simple form can be used with impossible/fantastical conditions, while the if... were to... form can only be used with unlikely but possible conditions:

If I asked you to marry me, what would you say? - OK

If I were to ask you to marry me, what would you say? - OK

but

If I had three heads, what kind of hat would I wear? - OK

If I were to have three heads, what kind of hat would I wear? - NOT OK

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Peter, can you provide links/resources with regard to the difference in using "if + were to" and the past form? Even in forum, different opinions were raised on the subtle difference, or any, for the following sentences: If Tom were to do my homework, I would watch a film. If Tom did my homework, I would watch a film. Thanks!

Submitted by Kamil on Wed, 25/09/2019 - 03:17

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If you didn't drink cola in the evening anymore, you would be sleepy. ......is that correct sentence...can we use did in conditional ?

Hello Kamil,

The sentence is perfectly fine, grammatically speaking. You can use negative forms in either or both parts of conditional structures.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by lalohr on Thu, 03/01/2019 - 19:20

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I think, this sentences that you use in the examples, "If Barcelona win tomorrow they will be champions." must be rewritten to "If Barcelona wins tomorrow they will be champions.", is it correct?

Hello lalohr,

Both win and wins are possible here.

The names of organisations (sports teams, the police, the army, the CIA, the UN, the EU etc) can be thought of as a single item (an institution) or as a collection of individuals, so both singular and plural are possible.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

When to use past of modal and when to use present form of modal in main clause : Is it like that if we are certain about future if condition is satisfied then we use present of modal , and if we are not sure of the outcome after condition is satisfied then we use past of modal - is it like that sir ?

Hello dipakrgandhi,

I don't think this is a question we can answer in the abstract like this. You're trying to draw out a very general rule and it's not clear which example you are working from. Please give us an example of what you have in mind (an example sentence) then we'll be happy to comment and explain.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Mel.acid on Fri, 28/09/2018 - 23:08

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I have a question. With conditionals how do I know when to use "going to" or "will"? Example: "if it stops raining I will go shopping" or "if it stops raining I'm going to go shopping". Thank you.

Hello Mel.acid,

The meanings of 'going to' and 'will' are the same in a conditional clause as in any other sentence. Generally, we use 'will' for a spontaneous decision, a prediction, a promise or somethng which we are certain about. We use 'going to' when we are expressing an intention or a plan, or when we are describing the logical result of something we can see.

You can read more about future forms on this page and this page.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by uchiha itache on Mon, 20/08/2018 - 10:42

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How do I use these structures : It was only when / it wasn't until I searched a lot and i couldn't find anything about them . I just want to know how to use them and where I can read about them

Hello uchiha itache,

These structures are usually completed with a that-clause:

It was only when I arrived that I realised it was so late.

It wasn't until I arrived that I realised it was so late.

 

They can be used with other time reference than the past:

It is only when I arrive that I realise it is so late.

It isn't until I arrive that I realise it is so late.

 

They can also be used with inversion for emphasis:

Only when I arrived did I realise it was so late.

Not until I arrived did I realise it was so late.

 

The structures with 'only' sounds rather formal and literary.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you a lot, Sir I got it . But could you mention any reference which has these parts of grammar? I really need it for my study and exams. I have a lot of grammar books and I couldn't find anything about this structure. So I just need a book or website..just anything

Hi uchiha itache,

I'm afraid we don't make suggestion as to books. We try to remain neutral as far as that goes.

If you do a search for only when not until then you'll see a lot of pages with relevant information, and you can compare multiple explanations and comments.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Wanlidadi on Mon, 06/08/2018 - 18:13

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hello every teacher i have question. i see someones use one form while talking "if subject would v object,main sentence" for example, if she would marry me,I would be happy. would comes in both if clause and main sentence. is it grammatically correct? could you explain the usage of "modal in if clause"? for example,if i should,if i could,etc thanks very much