Conditional Sentences

Conditional sentences play an important role in grammar. They describe a condition and the result that follows. On this page, I will shed some light on the subject.

Conditional sentences are made up of two parts: the if-clause (condition) and the main clause (result that follows).

IF-CLAUSE MAIN CLAUSE
If it rains, will take an umbrella.

Basically, there are four conditionals:

Apart from them, you can also form mixed conditionals.

But how do we form those variations?

The easiest way is to understand that both clauses (the if-clause and the main clause) can be real or unreal and refer to present (future) or past. Depending on these factors, the clause will look different.

Real conditional describes real-life, possible situations.

Unreal conditional describes imaginary situations.

We'll deal with each clause separately.

If-clause

First of all, you must decide if the situation in the if-clause is real or unreal.

Examples of real if-clauses:

  • I have some money, I go to a club. (zero conditional or first conditional can be used)
    It's a situation that happens very often.
  • When my uncle visited us, he would always help me with my homework.
    My uncle visited us many times.

Examples of unreal if-clauses.

  • If I could fly, I...
    But that will never happen.
  • If she had told me about that,...
    but she didn't tell me.

Once you've decided about that, it's time to choose the correct tense. As I mentioned, there are two choices: the present (future) or the past.

 

Examples of present if-clauses:

  • If meet him again, I will tell him that. (zero conditional or first conditional can be used)
    I will probably meet him soon.
  • If I were a bit taller, I would be more attractive.
    But I'm not taller.

Examples of past if-clauses:

  • When my uncle visited us, he would always help me with my homework.
    My uncle visited us many times.
  • If she had told me about that,...
    But she didn't tell me.

 

If these examples have confused you a bit, don't worry — I'm sure everything will become more and more obvious in just a moment.

The table below sums up what has been said about the if-clause.

1 Real Unreal
2 Present / Future Simple Present
If he says
Simple Past
If he said
Past Simple Past
If he said
Past Perfect
If he had said

Main-clause

The main-clause is also formed in two steps: first decide if you're talking about a real or an unreal situation, and then choose the correct tense.

If the main-clause is real, then it is exactly the same as a normal sentence. For example:

  • If he's late again, I will fire him. (first conditional]
    The situation is real because it can happen at any time.
  • If the weather was nice, she often walked to work.
    The situation is real because it happened (at least according to the speaker).

If  the main-clause is unreal, then it is formed in accordance with the table below:

Present / Future Modal + Infinitive
Examples: would, might, should, could
Past Modal + Perfect Infinitive
Examples: would have, might have, should have, could have

 

  • If it wasn't raining, we would go for a walk. (second conditional)
    But it is raining.
  • If he had been late again, I would have fired him. (third conditional)
    But he wasn't late.

 

OK, so far I've been mostly using examples that were, in fact, the four basic conditionals (as mentioned in the parentheses) and the Mixed Conditional. If these were the only conditional sentences that there are, two thirds of this article would be worthless. Of course, that's not the case - the purpose of this was to use simpler sentences that would accustom you to the method b) .

Now that you are accustomed to it (I hope you are!), we can proceed to the more advanced examples, which are the essence of the article. Let's start:

1. If neither of you saw the dog, I might have had hallucinations.

The if-clause is about a real situation. The main-clause is unreal because the speaker is unsure of the truth. Both clauses are about the past.

If it were a part of conversation, it might look similar to this:

1: Have you seen that? Something has moved in the bushes.
2: Where?!
1: Over there. It's a dog!
2: We can't see anything there, Mark.
The next day (Mark's conclusion):

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