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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

Hi Aabida,
It's possible to join these two sentences using a single sentence if you reword them.

- Whether I keep my promise in the future depends on whether I've kept it until now / in the past.

Does that express your meaning?

It also works as two sentences. I might say something like this:

- If I've kept my promise (until now), I'll never break it.
- If I've broken my promise, I might break it again (in future).

You could use 'but' to join these as one sentence.

Jonathan
The LearnEnglish Team

Last doubt:
Is this clause possible: "Maybe I can help you if you tell me what is wrong."?
If so, isn't the version bellow in the past tense?
"Maybe I could help you if you told me what was wrong."
The last is placed in the exercise about the present/future.

Hello again Elo,

The sentence is not about the past. We use the past form to describe a hypothetical present or future which we see as impossible or unlikely. In your sentence, the speaker thinks it unlikely that the other person will tell them what is wrong and so uses a past form (told) to express this.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Now I got it. I have just read the next lesson about "Hypothesis" and this topic is explored there. Thanks again!

I'm in doubt about a clause in the exercise Hypothetical conditionals: present/future 1.
It says
"if it was A JUST little bit cheaper."
Should it not say:
"if it was JUST A little bit cheaper."?

Hello Elo,

You are quite right - well spotted! We've corrected this mistake in the exercise.

 

Thanks again,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello!
In the clause:
"If Jack was playing, they would probably win."
Could it be written:
"If Jack was playing, they would probably have won."?
Thank you!

Hello Elo,

The second sentence is not possible because it puts the result (would have won) before the cause (was playing). You would need to say If Jack had played... for the sentence to be logically coherent.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

That makes a lot of sense! Thanks!

Your article mentions 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/make hypotheses." Does this mean that, apart from talking about the future/making hypotheses, if for example we are talking about the past, we simply follow the same usual grammatical rules as we do when creating regular simple past sentences, for example "He came home after he finished work." ?

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