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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

Can you Please explain this taken from a TedTalk.

Ideally, you would not be satisfied until you had actually done the work.

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

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?

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)?

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

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

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