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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 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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Comments

If I won the lottery, I would won a new house. In this situation, do I say the sentence when I'm playing the lottery? Or before the game I say it, sir

Hello Gendeng,

The sentence implies that the result is not known, so you would say this before you learn the result. Once the result is known (and you didn't win!), you would say 'If I had won... I would have...'

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks, Peter. You said 'would say' instead of will say, what does 'would' mean there?

Hi team,
"might have prepared a better presentation if I had more time." I saw in this sentence in my book exercise.
I wonder why we didn't say"... if I had had more time."Because if clause must be past perfect? or this is exception?

Hi Nuro,

Both had more time and had had more time are possible here.

 

We use the past perfect (had + verb3) when we are talking about a particular situation at a particular time:

I might have prepared a better presentation if I had had more time (yesterday/last week/this morning).

In other words, 'had had' describes a specific instance of not having time, not a general situation.

 

We use the past simple (verb2) when we are making a non-time specific statement:

I might have prepared a better presentation if I had more time (I am always/generally short of time; this is simply how my life is).

In other words, 'had' describes something which is generally true of the speaker's life - they never have time, and the presentation is not as good as it might be because of this.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, I have a question with regard to the main clause of first conditionals. Can we use 1) the present continuous with future meaning and 2) going to + verb, again with future meaning? Ex.: If it rains, the race is going to be cancelled.

Hello Aglaia,

Yes, you can use a range of future forms in the main clause. Will indicates a conditional prediction; going to, a conditional plan; present continuous, a conditional arrangement. Other modals are also possible, showing conditional probability, possibility, advice etc.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello
Can you tell me the answer please
Which one is correct
There's/ there are no furniture in this room

Hello Samin,

'furniture' is an uncount noun and so 'there is' is the correct verb form here.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hallo sir,
Can I use 'if' for replacement of 'when' or 'as'
~ if he didn't work yesterday, he was probably ill.
~ as he didnt work yesterday, he was probably ill.

Are those sentences the same? If so, is there any reference for the grammar?
Thank you, sir

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