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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 Vectrum,
As you can see, Peter answered your question the day after you asked it. If you are looking for a faster response than that, I think you will probably have to pay a teacher or linguist to help you.
We have millions of users here at LearnEnglish and we are only a small team. It simply isn't possible for us to answer every question quickly - or even to answer every question. We do our best, but we don't want you to expect too much.
Best wishes,
Adam
The LearnEnglish Team

I apologize.
I failed to notice the answer/reply Peter posted for me and I became little impatient because I haven't got answers to couple of questions I posted so I thought I would not get the answer this time as well so I wrote it in haste.
I am a sensible person. I don't expect too much. I know you have got a limited capacity to support the users.
with due apology,

Hello Vectrum,
There's no need to apologise! We're very happy that you're so keen to make the most of LearnEnglish, but I wanted to be sure you understood why you don't always get quick answers to your questions.
Best wishes,
Adam
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello,
Please help me understand why the following example written in this way;
(3rd example in the 3rd table from top)
"If we hadn’t spent all our money we could take a holiday. "
instead of "If we hadn't spent all our money we could have taken a holiday".
Please help me. I have been studying `time words` for a long time but
sometimes I can't understand certain usage.
Thank you,

Hello vectrum,
The two sentences refer to the same condition in the past ('If we hadn't spent all our money...'), but different times for the results:
'...we could take a holiday' > now
'...we could have taken a holiday' > in the past (last week/last year/10 years ago)
I hope that clarifies it for you.
Best wishes,
 
Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you Peter M for the answer.
I thought there was no possibility of spending holiday now because 'if I had not spent...,' refers to past perfect then 'we could have taken a holiday' also refers to past participle. The possibility doesn't exist anymore.
I thought in the following way, If ...(past perfect)..., ...would/could/might have +past participle form.
Thanks again.
 
 

hi! I have a question about "come" word, does the proverb, don't cross the bridge until you come to it, is grammatically correct the use of come?, my doubt is because as I understand we can use come if we are in some place so we can say to another person, " come here" for example, but if in telling someone this proverb, obviously im not on the bridge,so is it correct the way of come, use?

Hi lauramariacano,

What a great question! This is an idiom and it means ‘Don’t worry about the problem until you have to’. The question about ‘come’ is a good one because, as you say, we usually use ‘come’ to when it’s to the place where we are, and ‘go’ when it’s to a different place. However, there are some contexts when we use ‘come to’ in a similar way to ‘get to’, especially when it’s about reaching a place where we make a decision. For example, it’s perfectly OK to use ‘come to’ when you’re giving somebody directions:
‘Go down the road and when you come to (get to) the police station, turn left.’
Here’s another example, this time from a story:
‘I went up the stairs but when I came to his door, I hesitated.’
 
Thanks again for a really interesting question.
 
Best wishes
 
Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

hello, please when we can  use <use to> and <used to> thank you :) 

Hello taffou12!
 
You can find out about used to and used to on our page about past habits. We use used to in positive statements, and use to for questions or negatives.
 
Hope that helps!
 
Jeremy Bee
The LearnEnglish Team

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