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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 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

Hello Mr Kirk.

I am a bit confused about this sentence
1. "If I were you I would have slapped him". Third conditional says "If I had been you I would have slapped him" So is this exception from rule? Or both are correct?

2. And please I have one more question: Am I right about following sentences
a)If I had got the job we would be living in Paris now. ("would be living" is about today)
If I had got the job we would live in Paris now. (is this grammaticaly correct, Does it have similar meaning as this one above?)
b)If I had got the job we would have lived in Paris. ("we would have lived" is about the past, I would have lived then, one month, year etc ago)

Thank you in advance and I admire to your work here! Great work! Best wishes

Hello swxswx,

Your first example is highly unusual. It is an example of a mixed conditional. Normally, the condition (the 'if' clause) must come before the result (the other clause) and so its tense is earlier. This is logical: results follow conditions. This would lead us to form a third conditional, as you suggest:

If I had been you, I would have slapped him.

This sentence refers to one particular situation in the past: If I had been you (at that moment, in that situation), I would have... 

However, this sentence is unusual in that the condition can also be seen as a permanent one, not just one particular situation:

If I were you (generally, instead of being myself) I would have slapped him (then, at that moment).

Your sentences in the second part of your question are both correct, and so are your explanations.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Peter, I want to find out about these English grammar structures: "as if", "as though", and "would rather". Hope you could provide me necessary info about them, thanks in advance!

Hi Anh Quân Chu,

Both as if and as though are typically used to express how we view a situation, including when we know the situation isn't true. For example, "It looks as if (or as though) the sun is going to come out" means that we think the sun will come out. If you say, "You look as if you'd seen a ghost!", it could mean that you really think the person saw a ghost, or it could be that you think it's not really true, but that you're just describing how frightened someone looks.

would rather is explained on the will or would page - see near the bottom, in the last section.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

 

Oh thanks Kirk for useful information, but I thought they could be more complicated. I had read grammar books and they wrote that there are some rules of these structures "as if" and "as though", and ''would rather'', but demonstrations are vague. I'd like to know the rules of the 2nd phrase after ''as if'' ''as though'' and ''would rather'', can you explain? If my English is too wrong and you can't understand my question, please tell me I will try to write back to you.

Best wishes,

Quan.

Hi Quan,

I'm afraid I can't go into great detail about this, as our primary role here is to help users make use of the site and we are too few with too much work to be able to give detailed explanations of such points.

But I can say that 'as though' and 'as if' can both be followed by present or past tenses to speak about the present. The present indicates that you think your supposition is probably true (e.g. 'She looks as if she's ill.') and the past indicates you think it's probably not true (e.g. 'She looks as though she was ill.') 'would rather' can be followed by the infinitive without 'to' (e.g. 'I'd rather go to the mountains than to the beach.') or with a subject and a past tense (e.g. 'I'd rather she didn't come to the party.').

By the way, your English is very good and perfectly comprehensible!

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Well thank you for the compliment as well as the general grammatical explanation. You could just simply send me the links.
I might help more English questions for you in the future, hope you don't mind answer them.

Regards,
Quan.

Hi Quan,

Yes, of course, we'd be happy to help you with other questions! I was just trying to explain why I couldn't give lengthy explanations of those points.

We look forward to hearing from you again!

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

hi.i don't understand verb in time clause.Can do you speak more than the eg above.?

Hi nghiabkhn,

That's a very general question and so it's hard for me to give a specific answer.  Could you perhaps provide a concrete example of a sentence which you find confusing, and then we'll be happy to try to help you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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