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 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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Average
Average: 3.9 (32 votes)

Submitted by Safikamal Sk on Sat, 03/02/2024 - 02:30

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Q. Mrs. Kanwal is ............ principal of this school.

(1) no article

(2) a

(3) an

(4) the

Some people say that there should be "no article" before the noun "principal". They say the reason is that the noun "principal" has a fixed position in this sentence "this school", so there should be no article.

However, ChatGPT-4 and some books state that the article "the" is right, and most English teachers also give "the" as the right answer.

So please give an answer with reasons as it will be very important for many students.

Please give a strong valid proof for "the" also can be taken as a right answer. For this question I failed a government exam . It will be very helpful if anyone give me a proof.
Thank you sir!

Hi Safikamal Sk,

I would say that 1 and 4 are the best answers, and 2 is possible too.

  • No article - Professional positions are often used with no article (e.g. She is captain of the national team / He is professor of history at City University).
  • "The principal" - normally there is one principal in a school. "The" is used to show that there is only one of this thing (e.g. the moon / the king / the sky).
  • "A principal" - if a school does have more than one principal, then this is fine.

Sorry to hear about your exam result. I should point out that my explanation above is about general English usage, but usage naturally varies in different contexts (e.g. within different groups of people and institutions, and when communicating for different purposes) and specific contexts may have their own norms or standards. We have no idea about the specifics of your exam, so we cannot really comment on why your exam answer was considered incorrect.

Also, if you have more questions about this, please post them on a relevant page (e.g. Our page on The definite article would be a great place for this question). Thank you!

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Oksa2024 on Sun, 21/01/2024 - 21:23

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Hello!
Could you please help me to clarify the following?
Which option is correct:
- If she knew we can hear/ could hear her, she wouldn't be singing in the next room
- If he understood what we are talking / were talking about, he wouldn't be laughing
- I wish you were serious when you are talking/ were talking about children

What is the rule of the tense sequence in subordinate clauses in conditionals if these clauses represent real situations in the present (e.g. we really can hear her, but she doesn't know it; we are talking about something which he doesn't understand; the person is talking about children, but isn't serious)?

And what is the rule for past situations? Is it correct to say:
- If I had known you were going to arrive sooner, I would have waited for you (the real part is "you were going to arrive sooner")

Thank you!

Hello Oksa2024,

The key here is to understand that it is the first verb in each example which expresses unreality. The other verbs are governed by the rules of reported/indirect speech.

For example, in the first sentence the unreal element is expressed by knew; the form of the other verb is determined by whether or not the action is still true, not whether it is real or unreal:

If she knew we can hear her, she wouldn't be singing in the next room > we can still hear her now

If she knew we could hear her, she wouldn't be singing in the next room > it's not clear if we can still hear her now or only then

You can compare it to these examples of indirect speech:

If she knew I love her, she'd wouldn't have left.... > I loved her then and I still love her now

If she knew I loved her, she'd never have left.... > I loved her then; it's not clear if I love her now

 

The second example is similar:

If he understood what we are talking about, he wouldn't be laughing > we were talking about it then and the conversation is ongoing

If he understood what we were talking about, he wouldn't be laughing > we were talking about it then; it's not clear if the conversation is over

 

Your third example is a little bit different. Here the choice depends on whether 'talking about children' refers to one conversation or means something more akin to 'expressing your views on children' in an ongoing sense:

I wish you were serious when you are talking about children > 'talking about' is not a conversation but something like 'giving your opinion on'

I wish you were serious when you were talking about children > here 'talking about' could refer to a particular conversation or to a person's ongoing views/opinion.

 

I hope that clarifies it for you.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Peter,
Thank you so much for the explanation!

Could you, also, comment on the tense usage in past situations, please?
For example,

- If I had known you weren't in the room, I wouldn't have waited for you (I waited, but I didn't know you weren't there)
- If I had known you wouldn't like this idea (future from the past), I wouldn't have even suggested
- If I had known you had already bought the present, I wouldn't have spent the whole day looking for one (you (had) bought the present before, but I didn't know it)

Thank you!

Hello again Oksa2024,

Your explanations are good here - I'm not sure what I can add.

- If I had known you weren't in the room, I wouldn't have waited for you (I waited, but I didn't know you weren't there)

That's correct. This is an unreal past situation (in reality you didn't know) with an unreal past result (in reality you waited).

- If I had known you wouldn't like this idea (future from the past), I wouldn't have even suggested

As above, an unreal past situation (in reality you didn't know) with an unreal past result (in reality you suggested).

- If I had known you had already bought the present, I wouldn't have spent the whole day looking for one (you (had) bought the present before, but I didn't know it)

And again, an unreal past situation (in reality you didn't know) with an unreal past result (in reality you spent the looking).

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Peter,

Thank you so much for your comments and explanations!
May I ask just a few more things, to make sure I understand everything correctly?

1. “If he hadn’t asked me whether I will report/ whether I would report tomorrow, I wouldn’t have had to check my notes”
(in this situation, the moment of speaking is still today, but “I will report tomorrow” refers to the future action from the point of view of the moment of speaking, so, can we use “will” here or we need to use “would” as in the indicative mood (for example, in the indicative mood we’d say “He asked whether I would report tomorrow” to make the sequence of tenses correct)?.

And is the following correct?
In conditional sentences the usage of tenses in past situations doesn’t follow the rules of the sequence of tenses in the Indicative mood: in conditionals the tenses in clauses depend on whether the situation is still ongoing (or referring to the present) or is finished.

2. Is it possible to say “You will wish you hadn’t followed this advice” (meaning: ‘you will regret following it’)?
3. What is the difference in meaning: “He behaves as if he is a clown/ as if he were a clown” (Indicative vs. Subjunctive)?

Thank you so much for all your help!

Hi Oksa2024,

1. Yes, that's right. Using "will" is fine and it makes it clear that "tomorrow" refers to the day after saying this sentence. It seems to emphasise the urgency of the report more than when using "would".

2. Yes, right.

3. Firstly, we should say that there is little practical difference. Both sentences compare this person's behaviour with that of a clown. The second sentence communicates the unreality of the idea more clearly than the first one, since it uses "as if" and also the subjunctive form "were" (whereas the first sentence only uses "as if"). Both sentences are acceptable, but the subjunctive one may be judged as ideal or more correct because of the harmony of idea between "as if" and the subjunctive verb.

I hope that helps! It seems like you have gained a good understanding of these structures.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Gezza on Thu, 14/09/2023 - 10:36

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Hi,

In these sentences, which one is correct please, and why?
There should be enough cars so a taxi won't/wouldn't be necessary.
If Johnson wins the next election he will/would scrap the taxes.

Thanks!

Hi Gezza,

In both sentences, the first clause shows something that the speaker/writer considers as a realistic possibility or a likelihood (because of "There should" and "wins", present simple), rather than using a past form to show something unrealistic or imaginary (e.g. "If there were enough cars ..." / "If Johnson won ..."). So, "won't" and "will" are the best options because they also show a realistic or likely future action. 

In everyday conversation, it's somewhat acceptable to use "would" too. However, using "would" makes it unclear whether the speaker/writer considers this to be realistic or just imaginary. If this was in a language test, "would" may not be accepted as an answer.

You can find more examples using "will/won't" and "would" on our Conditionals page (linked). I hope it helps.

Jonathan

Profile picture for user Tony_M

Submitted by Tony_M on Tue, 29/08/2023 - 17:04

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Hello Pundits,

My question is about the use of Future and Present Simple after 'when' in different clauses, as in:

- When you start cooking, I will come in from the garden.
In this example 'when you start cooking' is an adverbial clause of time, it indicates the time (not defining any part of the sentence), the structure is similar to a conditional sentence. It answers the question: 'when?'
We can only use Present Simple here, correct?

- I look forward to the day when this application is available.
Here 'the day' is a direct object, and we explain or define it using the adjective clause 'when this application is available', it answers the question: 'what day?'
As far as I know, we can use Present Simple or Future Simple here.
What is the difference between the two? When should I use one or the other?
- I look forward to when we get to work together again.
'When we get to work together again' is a noun clause, it answers the question: 'what?'
We can rebuild the sentence into:
- I look forward to our future cooperation.
Having done my research on COCA, I can conclude that, in general, people prefer Present Simple in such clause, but there were some examples with Future Simple as well.
What is the difference between Future Simple and Present Simple here?

Thank you very much.

Hello Tony_M,

- When you start cooking, I will come in from the garden.

In this example 'when you start cooking' is an adverbial clause of time, it indicates the time (not defining any part of the sentence), the structure is similar to a conditional sentence. It answers the question: 'when?'
We can only use Present Simple here, correct?

It's possible to use other forms after when here, such as present perfect to emphasise completion (When you have written the report....) or present continuous to show an event in progress (When you are peeling the potatoes...). In the second clause, the present simple is possible if you are describing typical behaviour rather than a particular instance.

- I look forward to the day when this application is available.

Here 'the day' is a direct object, and we explain or define it using the adjective clause 'when this application is available', it answers the question: 'what day?'
As far as I know, we can use Present Simple or Future Simple here.
What is the difference between the two? When should I use one or the other?

The present simple is more common here but both can be used, as you say. I think modal 'will' (it's not, strictly speaking, a tense at all) suggests less certainty regarding the matter. In other words, to my ear the present simple suggests that the application will definitely be available, while 'will' here is said without that certainty. You can perhaps see it more clearly in these examples:

I look forward to the day when we finally meet. [I'm confident we're going to meet]

I look forward to the day when we will finally meet. [I don't know if it will actually happen]

- I look forward to when we get to work together again.

'When we get to work together again' is a noun clause, it answers the question: 'what?'

We can rebuild the sentence into:

- I look forward to our future cooperation.

Having done my research on COCA, I can conclude that, in general, people prefer Present Simple in such clause, but there were some examples with Future Simple as well.
What is the difference between Future Simple and Present Simple here?

As above, I think the use of 'will' suggests hope rather than certainty. Note that these are very subtle distinctions rather than any kind of rule.

 

Sometimes there is a clear difference in meaning. Take a look at these two sentences:

I'll finish it tomorrow when I have less work.

I'll finish it tomorrow when I will have less work.

The first sentence can be understood to mean 'At some point tomorrow I will have less work and I will use this time to finish it'.

The second sentence can be understood to mean 'Tomorrow I have less work, so I will finish it then'.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ivy Z on Fri, 18/08/2023 - 04:26

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Hi The LearnEnglish Team, thank you for your summary, which is very helpful. My question is what is the difference between if sentence to talk about future (if +present simple+(then)will do) and if+past tense to give suggestions about what might happen in the future (hypotheses)? I used to think in the latter case it means what is indicated in the main clause is not likely to happen, but in daily use I've heard people discussing a very possible future event using if+past tense. Can you shed light on this? Thank you very much!

Hello Ivy Z,

The past tense in if-clauses is generally used, as you say, for conditions we consider unlikely, impossible or hypothetical. When giving suggestions or advice we often use formulations which contain or imply a hypothetical:

If I were you > I'd....

(If I were) In your place > I'd...

(If I were) In that situation > I'd...

If that happened to me > I'd...

Perhaps what you noticed is something like this, but I can only speculate without knowing the particular example.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Peter.
Thank you for your response and explanation. The past tense in if-clauses I referred to was used by our lawyers to indicate the possible outcomes under each action plan. So an example would be:

If the company chose / decided to hold off from making a claim against B, the company would likely to benefit ...

What confused me was that 'making a claim against B' was exactly what was suggested and was also the plan favoured by the company and the lawyers knew it, so to me, using past tense in this case seemed to imply that the likelihood for it - namely holding off fire against B - to happen was small but in fact it was most likely to happen. Thus I was wondering if, in this situation, the past tense in if-clauses only mutually indicates a possible result.

Hello again Ivy Z-1,

The past tense in the if-clause makes the action more distant. This usually means more distant in terms of likelihood – i.e. less certain or probable. However, other forms of distancing exist, such as social distancing in terms of formality or politeness. This is why forms such as 'Could I...' and 'Would you...' are more polite/formal than 'Can I...' and 'Will you...'

In the context you describe I think the distancing is more social or professional. While it's perfectly fine to say 'If the company chooses... they will likely benefit...', the past + would form is more neutral in terms of leaving the decision up to the company. In other words, the speaker (the lawyer) may use this form to maintain a certain distance and make it clear that the decision is up to the company. These are very subtle nuances, of course.

One point to note: the 'to' is incorrect in the second clause of your example. It should be '...would likely benefit'.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by User_1 on Fri, 28/07/2023 - 13:40

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Hello,
Since I am hungry to learn, I would ask more about the Future
and 'if' clauses.
As it is written above, "in time clauses and conditional clauses, with words like if, when...we often use present tense forms"... but we can use "will" if it means want to or be willing to.
This means that:
I will be very happy if you will come to my party.
I will be very happy if you come to my party.
Are both sentences correct?
I am a bit confused because with the if clauses, I normally use the present tense forms to talk about the future.
Is that an exception to the general rule?
Thank you!

Hi User_1,

Yes, that's right. Both are correct and they mean basically the same thing, although "if you will come" may give the idea of "if you want to come" or "if you are willing to come". In comparison, "if you come" is simply the action of coming.

Here is an example where "will" cannot be used in the "if" clause, because the idea of being willing is not relevant to the action.

  • Even if Barcelona will lose tomorrow, they will still be champions. (incorrect)
  • Even if Barcelona lose tomorrow, they will still be champions. (correct)

If you have doubts, it's always fine to just use present tense forms, as you normally do!

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Hi Jonathan,
Thanks for your help!
Since the present is the correct form, I keep on using that to avoid grammar mistakes.

Submitted by CarolinaRuiz on Fri, 23/06/2023 - 15:49

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Hello

I know that in time clauses with words like before, when, after, and until, we often use present tense forms to talk about the future, but could you explain why or if it's something idiomatic?

Hello CarolinaRuiz,

I'm not sure I can say why this is the case. Language doesn't really work like that - it evolves rather than being planned with identifiable purposes.

What I can say is that, unlike many languages, English does not have a future tense. Instead, we have many ways of talking about the future. These include present tenses, modal verbs (like will or might) and even past tenses (for unlikely or hypothetical futures). Using present tenses for future meaning is nothing unusual - it's part of the normal language system of English.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by alice.wu on Tue, 20/06/2023 - 17:44

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Hello. I'd like to ask there is written
"I'll come home when I finish work."
As i know /finish/ is a gerund so why there is /work/ not /working/ ( it seems like infinitive without to) or i remember not correctly¿
I have an exam and I am trying to learn in all situations. (I think i have to improve my writing also)
I'm really grateful for your help.

Hello alice.wu,

I think you mean that 'finish' is followed by a gerund and that is correct: I finished working late last night.

However, 'finish' can also be followed by a noun: I finished the project yesterday.

In your example, 'work' is a noun and it is the object of 'finish'.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish

Submitted by m6789 on Thu, 08/12/2022 - 18:56

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Why is it not "Barcelona loses" in your example? Why is the verb plural?

Hello m6769,

The names of institutions and organisations can often be either singular or plural, so you can say 'Barcelona loses' or 'Barcelona lose'.

Some other examples of this include the army, the police, the government, the European Union, the judiciary, the media and the BBC.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ilter on Tue, 20/09/2022 - 19:46

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Hello,

If a "would have V3" sentence is used alone, should we take it as a sentence about an unreal past situation?

For example ... "the landscape would have been open" ... does this sentence mean that ... in fact landscape was not open in the past?

Thanks a lot.

Hello Ilter,

It certainly could be talking about an unreal past situation, and I'd even go so far as to say it probably is talking about an unreal past situation, but what exactly it means really depends on the context. The context and the verb forms make meaning together.

If you can give us the context, then we can tell you more.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Kirk,

The complete paragraph is ...

"Walking back through the menhirs, Agogué explained while the Alignments are reasonably well preserved, both nature and humans have altered the appearance of the site over time. When the Alignments were constructed, the landscape would have been open, without the trees that now divide and flank the sections, and the sea would have been further away. And in the past 6,000 years, some of the menhirs have toppled over – including one last year."

In this context, I think that it does not talk about an unreal past ... would "might have been" be more correct here? What the meaning here "would" adding to the context?

Thanks a lot,
Best wishes

Hello Ilter,

Thanks for giving the full context -- that's much clearer now.

This is the use described on our 'will have' and 'would have' page in sentences such as:

It was half past five. Dad would have finished work.

In a case like this, the speaker has good reasons for their belief (for example, she knows her father always finishes at 5:00), but not direct evidence (she hasn't seen him leave work). The speaker is imagining a situation that they haven't witnessed but which seems likely due to some evidence. It could be their knowledge of that person's typical behaviour, or it could be some other evidence.

In the passage you ask about, the writer supposes that the landscape was open in the past -- they probably have some archaeological or historical evidence to support this idea and are fairly certain about it -- but obviously they didn't witness it themselves.

Does that make sense?

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

 

Submitted by aa223 on Mon, 19/09/2022 - 20:33

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Hey, I hope it's still okay to comment, I have two examples about which I'd like to know more please!
first example: *boy comes to a girl's house to ask her dad* "Hey, is she here? I promised her I'd see her before I left"
second example: *they don't want him to go outside while there's danger* "Nobody would want him to leave the safety of the house until the criminal was caught"

Please explain these two to me! Maybe with a sort of model/format/structure and also the name of this?
And I couldn't find anything on the web with this example, especially with before/until, and would + verb so if you could talk about this too if there's anything to it.

Thank you in advance!

Hi aa223,

Sure, no problem. You can think of example 1 as reported speech (i.e. indirect speech). The boy may have said to the girl, "I promise I'll see you before I leave". Some time later, the boy tells the girl's dad what he promised her earlier, so it all shifts back into the past (promise --> promised; I'll see --> I would see; leave --> left). You can read more about this on our Reported Speech 1 page (linked).

In example 2, "would" and the use of the simple past "was caught" frame the situation as an imagined or hypothetical one, rather than one that is realistic or bound to happen. It suggests that the speaker is not confident or certain that the criminal will actually be caught. Saying "Nobody would want him ..." (rather than "Nobody wants him ...") suggests that the speaker has not actually gone around and asked everybody what they want, but is supposing or assuming what they want.

I hope that helps to make sense of it.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Profile picture for user David Araque

Submitted by David Araque on Sat, 11/06/2022 - 15:25

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Hi dear team. I was wondering if you could help me identify what kind of sentence the following one I saw in a movie. I mean, I know that the zero conditional is used with present simple in both clauses but I don't know if we can use zero conditional with both clauses in simple past. And also I know that the second conditional is used for hypothetical situations and has a Modal verb like would and will. My question is what kind of sentence is this one? : "If somebody said it was a happy little tale, if somebody told you I was just an average ordinary guy, not a care in the world, somebody lied". Thank you so much.

Hello David,

When we're not speaking about an imaginary or unreal situation (as in a second or third conditional), the verb tenses we use in sentences with 'if' have their 'normal' meanings -- in other words, the present refers to the present and the past to the past.

That's the case for the sentence 'If somebody said it was a happy little tale, if somebody told you I was just an average ordinary guy, not a care in the world, somebody lied'. Without knowing more about the situation, it's hard to work exactly what is meant by this, but basically the speaker is saying that whatever another person said about them isn't or wasn't true.

Does that make sense?

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you so much dear Kirk for your help.
So is it possible to classify the if clause in simple past and the main clause in simple past in a specific category? I mean do you think that sentences like: 'if someone called me, I didn't notice it' or 'if I came late, it wasn't my fault' are a kind of zero conditional with both clauses in simple past or do they belong to a different category?
Thank you so much.
And regarding the sentence from the previous comment do you think it is a kind of indirect question? I mean: (' did somebody say it was a happy little tale? Well, somebody lied = 'If somebody said it was a happy little tale, somebody lied').
Thank you so much for your help.

Hello David Araque,

The so-called 'zero', 'first', 'second' and 'third' conditional labels were created by teachers as a way to help students make sense of some common patterns. But the truth is, 'if' sentences can be used with any verb tense that makes sense. Of course, what makes sense isn't always easy for students to discern, and so that's why we have these labels. But, as you've discovered, other combinations are possible.

If you think about it, the tenses in zero and first conditionals are 'normal' uses of the verb tenses. The same is true of second and third conditionals, too, because the use of the past to talk about unreal situations is a use of the past tense that also occurs in other structures (e.g. 'I wish it were raining now'); we just don't typically think of these uses. So really all the tenses we use in 'if' sentences are normal uses of the verb tenses that exist in other situations too.

I wouldn't call the sentence in a question a zero conditional, personally. It's two past simple verbs used to talk about a condition in the past. But if coming up with some name for this structure helps you remember it, then by all means, go ahead -- just know it will be your own creation.

Yes, 'Did somebody say (that) it was a happy little tale?' has the structure of an indirect question. But if you combine it with 'somebody' lied, the indirect question is embedded within the larger 'if' sentence.

Hope that helps.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Aryin on Thu, 27/01/2022 - 00:26

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Can you please shed light on the proper structure of this sentence.

"He promised to come when he was/is done at work"

Please which is correct to use between "was" or "is"?

Hello Aryin,

It depends. If the speaker thinks the man is still working when the speaker says this, then 'is' is the correct form. But if the speaker thinks the man already finished his work at the time of speaking, then 'was' is the correct form.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Helena-Victoria on Fri, 21/01/2022 - 10:45

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Sir,
In your above-mentioned example

‘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.)

- I used to write e.g. ‘We would go by train if it weren’t (!) so expensive.’
‘I would look after the children for you at the weekend if I were (!) at home.’

Could you, please, explain it to me why you used another grammatical form?

Thank you in advance.

Hello Helena-Victoria,

In 'if' clauses talking about an unreal situation, both 'was' and 'were' are correct forms of the verb 'be' for both first-person singular subjects ('I') and third-person singular subjects ('he', 'she' or 'it').

Many years ago, the only correct form for such situations was 'were', but now in all but very formal situations, 'was' is also accepted. If it's easier for you to remember 'were', then by all means use it -- it is perfectly correct!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Nevı on Thu, 13/05/2021 - 13:20

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Hi excellent team! I am writing to ask for information about 'first conditional'. When I write a sentence containing first conditional for example; If you want to lose weight, you will need to eat less sugar. Here I don't understand the 'if clause' (you want to lose weight) refers to future or present. I mean you will want to lose weight / you want to lose weight now? I am asking that question because I saw following information on my book " In this type of conditional, the present tenses in the if-clause usually refer to future time and their use is similar to that in future time clauses." You'd be doing me a huge favour.

Hi Nevı,

It could refer to the present or the future :)

  • Present: If you want (right now) to lose weight, ...
  • Future: If you want (at some point in the future) to lose weight, ...

We would need to know the context in which this is said to know which timeframe is intended.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Nevı on Fri, 14/05/2021 - 10:23

In reply to by Jonathan R

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You've been really helpful, teacher. However, for example; My friend said 'I have excessive fat and want to be more thin' I can say 'If you want to lose weight(right now) ,... But another context like My friend is pregnant and said' After giving birth, I will not want to be fat' I can say `If you want to lose weight (at some point in the future),... Would it be possible for you to check whether my contexts are true, teacher Jonathan? If not could you give me an example contexts. The LearnEnglish Team teachers and administers are really helping me out.

Hello Nevi,

Yes, it looks as if you understand this correctly. Good work!

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Nevı on Sat, 06/03/2021 - 11:07

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Hi teacher, I want to learn one more thing. In this sentence "Simon works at night so he gets home from work when* I get up. " I saw this sentence while doing exercise about non-defining relative clauses. 'when' in the sentence functions relative clause? I think it is conjunction? Sincerely