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

I think, this sentences that you use in the examples, "If Barcelona win tomorrow they will be champions." must be rewritten to "If Barcelona wins tomorrow they will be champions.", is it correct?

Hello lalohr,

Both win and wins are possible here.

The names of organisations (sports teams, the police, the army, the CIA, the UN, the EU etc) can be thought of as a single item (an institution) or as a collection of individuals, so both singular and plural are possible.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

When to use past of modal and when to use present form of modal in main clause : Is it like that if we are certain about future if condition is satisfied then we use present of modal , and if we are not sure of the outcome after condition is satisfied then we use past of modal - is it like that sir ?

Hello dipakrgandhi,

I don't think this is a question we can answer in the abstract like this. You're trying to draw out a very general rule and it's not clear which example you are working from. Please give us an example of what you have in mind (an example sentence) then we'll be happy to comment and explain.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I have a question. With conditionals how do I know when to use "going to" or "will"? Example: "if it stops raining I will go shopping" or "if it stops raining I'm going to go shopping". Thank you.

Hello Mel.acid,

The meanings of 'going to' and 'will' are the same in a conditional clause as in any other sentence. Generally, we use 'will' for a spontaneous decision, a prediction, a promise or somethng which we are certain about. We use 'going to' when we are expressing an intention or a plan, or when we are describing the logical result of something we can see.

You can read more about future forms on this page and this page.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

How do I use these structures :
It was only when / it wasn't until
I searched a lot and i couldn't find anything about them . I just want to know how to use them and where I can read about them

Hello uchiha itache,

These structures are usually completed with a that-clause:

It was only when I arrived that I realised it was so late.

It wasn't until I arrived that I realised it was so late.

 

They can be used with other time reference than the past:

It is only when I arrive that I realise it is so late.

It isn't until I arrive that I realise it is so late.

 

They can also be used with inversion for emphasis:

Only when I arrived did I realise it was so late.

Not until I arrived did I realise it was so late.

 

The structures with 'only' sounds rather formal and literary.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you a lot, Sir
I got it .
But could you mention any reference which has these parts of grammar? I really need it for my study and exams.
I have a lot of grammar books and I couldn't find anything about this structure.
So I just need a book or website..just anything

Hi uchiha itache,

I'm afraid we don't make suggestion as to books. We try to remain neutral as far as that goes.

If you do a search for only when not until then you'll see a lot of pages with relevant information, and you can compare multiple explanations and comments.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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