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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

Hello magnuslin,

Yes, that's the idea.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Why is "would" used instead of "will" in these following sentences?

1) ...some government officials and financial investors are beginning to worry that the Chinese currency may also be devalued. If that happens, it would likely start a new round of further devaluations in Thailand, Indonesia, and other countries that compete with China.

2) He told the Sunday Herald that if the court decides not to sit on Fridays, he would support the decision.
3) That new customer may spend thousands of dollars with your company over the next several years. If that happens, it would really be worth the investment, wouldn't it?
4) ''Are they really going to shut us down in the middle of the winter?'' he said. ''If they do, it would be a total social disaster.''
5) Sony is so far behind in the market that it has been forced to strike a joint venture with Samsung under which the South Korean company - and rival - would provide it with a steady stream of LCD panels for TVs that should make it competitive with market leaders.

Hi Dukul

I bet "would" in those sentences would be making a hypothesis.?!

Hi, I have come across sentences using past tense in if-clause and present tense in the main clause, such as:

1) A hamster is pregnant for only about three weeks and up to 20 babies can seemingly appear overnight in a hamster's nest if you didn't know your hamster was pregnant.

2) Hamsters will eat more when they are pregnant and nursing, but otherwise their diet will remain the same as if they weren't.

Are they grammatically correct and do you classify them as "mixed conditionals"?

Hi CareBears07,

The first sentence does not read well, I think. It is mixing general statements about hamsters with a specific and particular situation, which is inconsistent. You could argue that there is an implied result clause which is omitted, however:

A hamster is pregnant for only about three weeks and up to 20 babies can seemingly appear overnight in a hamster's nest as they would/might if you didn't know your hamster was pregnant.

 

The second example has a hidden result clause. The full sentence would be as follows:

Hamsters will eat more when they are pregnant and nursing, but otherwise their diet will remain the same as it would be if they weren't (pregnant).

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Peter, thanks for your prompt explanation. It seems such omissions are common in articles using American English, which at times runs in conflict with the grammar rules of British English. :(

Hi CareBears07,

I wouldn't say that there is a conflict with the grammatical rules, or rather I would say that any conflict is only superficial and disappears on closer inspection and consideration.

 

Language is a tool for expression and communication. Style is as much a part of that as grammar. Where omitting phrases or words causes ambiguity or a lack of clarity it may be problematic (unless the speaker desires ambiguity), but I don't think either of your examples were difficult to understand, even if the underlying grammatical struture was not immediately apparent.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Can you Please explain this taken from a TedTalk.

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

Hello Dean

This sentence is talking about a hypothetical or imaginary situation. This is clear from the use of 'Ideally' and especially from 'would not be' and 'had done'. 'had done' refers to an imagined time when the work is already done, and 'would' refers to a time after that.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello again Dean

I think I would call this a mixed conditional since it appears to refer to an imaginary present time (though it could be future) that is dependent upon a past condition.

Does that help?

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

 

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