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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 excellent team!
I am writing to ask for information about 'first conditional'.
When I write a sentence containing first conditional
for example;
If you want to lose weight, you will need to eat less sugar.

Here I don't understand the 'if clause' (you want to lose weight) refers to future or present.
I mean you will want to lose weight / you want to lose weight now?

I am asking that question because I saw following information on my book
" In this type of conditional, the present tenses in the if-clause usually refer to future time and their use is similar to that in future time clauses."

You'd be doing me a huge favour.

Hi Nevı,

It could refer to the present or the future :)

  • Present: If you want (right now) to lose weight, ...
  • Future: If you want (at some point in the future) to lose weight, ...

We would need to know the context in which this is said to know which timeframe is intended.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

You've been really helpful, teacher.

However, for example;

My friend said 'I have excessive fat and want to be more thin'
I can say 'If you want to lose weight(right now) ,...

But another context like
My friend is pregnant and said' After giving birth, I will not want to be fat'
I can say `If you want to lose weight (at some point in the future),...

Would it be possible for you to check
whether my contexts are true, teacher Jonathan?
If not could you give me an example contexts.

The LearnEnglish Team teachers and administers are really helping me out.

Hello Nevi,

Yes, it looks as if you understand this correctly. Good work!

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi teacher,
I want to learn one more thing.
In this sentence
"Simon works at night so he gets home from work when* I get up. "

I saw this sentence while doing exercise about non-defining relative clauses.

'when' in the sentence functions relative clause?
I think it is conjunction?

Sincerely

If I won the lottery, I would won a new house. In this situation, do I say the sentence when I'm playing the lottery? Or before the game I say it, sir

Hello Gendeng,

The sentence implies that the result is not known, so you would say this before you learn the result. Once the result is known (and you didn't win!), you would say 'If I had won... I would have...'

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks, Peter. You said 'would say' instead of will say, what does 'would' mean there?

Hi team,
"might have prepared a better presentation if I had more time." I saw in this sentence in my book exercise.
I wonder why we didn't say"... if I had had more time."Because if clause must be past perfect? or this is exception?

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