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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

I find this sentence odd: You could have stayed with us if you had come to London.

Why it's not: You could have stayed with us if you had came to London.

And can I say: You could have stayed with us had came to London.

The tip is really enormous and useful. Thanks.

Hi,

You mentioned that "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 or when we make hypotheses." By this, and with respect to time clauses, are you simply saying that when using time clauses to refer to the past, simply use simple past tense (as logically you would expect - for example "We had dinner before we watched the movie") and similarly use simple present tense in a time clause when you are referring to the present. In other words, we only need to ensure that time clauses referring to future time are in the simple present tense?

Regards,
Tim

Hello Tim,

Yes, that's right. When speaking about the past you could also use the past perfect or the past continuous, and when speaking about the present, the present continuous is also possible, but in these cases they are used in the normal way -- that is, not like the use of the present simple to speak about the future, for example.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi everyone,

I find this article rather confusing at some point. For example, when explaining how to use past tense to talk about something that didn't happen in the past, they made an example as "If I had got the job, we would be living in Paris." In the following part they made a similar sentence to explain how to structure a hypothetical conditional that is about the present or future as "If I had got the job, we might be living in Paris now." Could anyone tell me how different are these two sentences regarding the time reference? To me, they could both refer something that happens in the present. Am I right?

Hello Harry de ZHANG,

Both sentences do refer to a hypothetical present time. The difference between the two sentences lies in the modal verb. 'would be living' states that in that hypothetical situation (in which I got the job -- in reality I did not get the job), we are definitely now living in Paris. 'might be living in Paris now' states that in that hypothetical situation, perhaps we are living in Paris and perhaps we are not.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Hi Kirk,

Now I understand the nuance between the two sentences. Thank you so much for the explanation! You are a big help!
Apart from this question, I think there might be a mistake in this article. If you would look at the first part that talks about the future, you might find an example sentence as written as "You must wait here until you father comes." I think it should be "your father" instead of "you father." But I could be wrong.

Hello Harry de ZHANG,

I'm glad that helped you! 

And thanks for pointing out that error to us -- you are right and I have fixed the error.

Best wishes,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hey dear
For example I have not had much idea about someone else.
But I can tell some possiblities about that person.
For example I have to tell about Jon to his girlfriend.
I can only predict Jon's behaviour, but do not know the exact truth whether that condition really happened or not in the past.
For example My prediction is: If Jon had beaten his boss (in the past) the surely he will beat his boss(in the future)
But If Jon had not beaten his boss, then he will not beat him in the furture.
So this is my prediction about Jon's behaviour because I know him very well.
So I can only tell possibilities to his girlfriend about Jon's behaviour. Exactly both I and his girfriend don't know about Jon's mishap with his boss. We are just predicting.

Please help me sir about this situation.Reagrds

Hi Aabida,

Yes, that makes sense. But in the 'if' clause, it should be 'If Jon has beaten ...', using present perfect (not past perfect). The past perfect ('had beaten') is for a past event that took place earlier than another defined past time, but there isn't one here. See our Past perfect page for more details: https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/grammar/intermediate-to-upper-in...

You could also write this as a single sentence, as with your other question:
- Whether Jon will beat his boss (in future) depends on whether he has beaten him (in the past).

If you want to show clearly that you're speculating, you could add a phrase like 'I guess' or 'probably'.

Does that make sense?

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

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