There are four types of conditional clauses: type 0, and types 1, 2 and 3. They express a condition in the present, future or the past. All conditional sentences are complex sentences which contain minimum two simple sentences. Conditional sentences consist of two clauses: the if- clause (conditional clause) and the main clause: If you call him, he will come. OR He will come if you call him.. These two clauses are connected by the conjunction if.
Type 0 : cause and effect
In this type the main clause and the if-clause have the relation of cause and effect. That means that of the cause is realised than the effect will be too.
Both clauses contain Present Simple Tense:
if clause: present simple tense, main- present simple tense
Oil floats if you pour it on water.
If he says “yes” he means “yes”.
If you work in the kitchen, you have to wear an apron and a cap.
In this type of conditional sentences the realization of the condition is not open to chance. If the condition is realised, then the result stated in the main clause will take place, if the condition is not realised then the result will not take place.
Type 1: open conditions
Present or future references
If clause: present, main clause: future
If you drop the vase it will break.
If it breaks, you will have to buy a new one.
If you hit the dog, it will bite you.
We’ll be pleased if we win the match.
This type of sentences implies that the action or event mentioned in the if-clause is quite probable, quite likely to happen. But the probability that the condition will be fulfilled often exists only in the mind of the speaker. This type of conditional sentences refers to present or future, but the verb in the if-clause is always in a present, not a future tense.
Possible variations of type 1:
- if + will/ would is not used in a predicative sense in the conditional clause Type 1, despite the fact that it refers to the future. It can only be used in some special meanings:
If you will teach me French, I will teach you English.
We’ll finish this work quickly, if you will give us a hand. (if you are willing to give us a hand)
In this type of conditional sentences will in the conditional clause (if-clause) can be turned into tentative or polite would without any change in the rest of the sentence:
If you would teach me French, I will teach you English.
- Also if + should (but not would!) may be used to express a condition of remote possibility. This means that the condition is less probable to realize.
If I should meet thee after long years how should I greet thee? With silence and tears. (Lord Byron)
- If-clause may be replaced with an imperative construction:
Laugh and the whole world will laugh with you. Cry and you’ll cry alone.
(If you laugh the whole world...)
Eat less and you won’t get fat. (If you eat less, you will get fat.)
Eat l ess or you’ll get fat . (If you don’t eat less you will get fat.)
Type 2: tentative, hypothetical, unreal conditions
Present or future time reference
The combination of tenses:
If -clause: PAST , main clause: modal verbs (would, could, might) + bare/present infinitive (a verb without to)
If we took a taxi, we could catch the train.
If I inherited my uncle’s estate, I would be very rich.
I would show you how to do it if I knew myself.
All three sentences above have the same combination of tenses. However, the verb form (tense) in the if-clause does not reflect time, but rather the attitude of the speaker towards the condition. These conditions are unreal, because the action itself happened in the past:
If we took a taxi, we could catch the train (but we didn’t take a taxi, and now we missed the train.)
Type 2 alternative forms:
Wish, ‘d rather, if only, it’s time + noun clause with past tense.
The idea of something contrary to present fact can be expressed in some other ways. But the past tense is used in all these cases to refer to the present unreality.
I wish I were in Italy now.
If only I were rich!
I’d rather they went there themselves.
I’d rather go there myself.
John would rather I went there myself.
It’s time we told him the truth.
It’s about the tie we left.
It’s high time we were leaving.
We have to remember that would not will is used to invite someone to co-operate or to express that we are frustrated by some people’s behaviour or by some events and would like a change:
I wish you would stop smoking.
I wish it would stop raining.
If only it would stop raining.
Type 2, variations:
This type can use were to in the if-clause to emphasize the sense of supposition. It is somewhat analogous to the use of should in Type 1. Were to is used in all persons both singular and plural of this second type:
If I were to inherit his uncle’s estate, I would be very rich.
If + would is sometimes used to express a request:
If you would just sign the register. (in a hotel) (=Would you be kind to sign the register?)
If you’d open your books. (in a classroom)
If you’d fill in this form.
However, would canno be used in sentences in which the idea of willing is not expressed:
If he heard the news, he would be very surprised. (Not *If he would hear... )
Here are also some examples with might and could instead of would:
If you tried again you might succeed.
If I knew how to do it, I could show you .
Type 3: unreal conditions,
past time reference
if- clause: past perfect tense, main sentence: could/ might/ would + perfect infinitive
If we had taken a taxi, we could/might/would have caught the train.
The past perfect in this type of conditional sentences indicates past unreality. This sentence above can be interpreted as: We didn’t take a taxi so we didn’t catch. This is already in past, and there is no any possibility that it would change.
The third type of these sentences is used with I wish too:
I wish you had told me the truth.
I wish we had gone there together.
Sometimes it is possible to use were to + prefect infinitive:
If we were to have met I would have told you the truth.
Could and might may be used instead of would:
If I had been a good swimmer, I could have saved his life.
If I had been a good swimmer, I might have saved his life.
Unreal condition (“mixed” past and present tense)
Some other combinations of tenses different to the above are also possible and then we get “mixed” types with different time references. Analyze the time reference in the if- clause and the main clause in the example below:
If we had learned English better, we would be able to communicate.
Here we can see which tenses (apart from the present simple) may occur in the if-clause and what time such a combination will refer to:
1. If-clause: present continuous tense, main clause: future
Future time reference
If he is being nasty, we’ll call the police.
If he is studying hard, he’ll surely pass the exam.
2. If-clause: present (or other future tense equivalents), main clause: future
If he is sleeping when John gets home, he’ll be very angry.
If John is going to be angry, Mary will not be sleeping when he comes.
3. If clause: present perfect or past tense, main clause: future
Past time reference
If he has come late, he will try not to do it again.
If you have said something like this, you’ll regret it/ suffer for it.
If he said so, he will regret it.
If John lost his car key, Mary will be very angry.
In the following examples we have the usual combination of tenses used in Type 1 conditional sentence:
If he learns, I’ll learn too.
If the weather is fine, we shall go for an outing.
If John moves to London, Mary will be moving too.
Here we can see which tenses (apart from the future tenses) may be used in the main clause and which time a combination will refer to:
1. If clause: present, main clause: going to/ present continuous/ present simple
If it is overcast, it is going to rain.
If the weather is fine, we are walking home.
If he resigns (his job) I resign (mine) too.
2. If-clause: present, main clause: imperative
If it is cold, put on another pullover.
3. If-clause: present, main clause: past simple
If the story is true, he worked as a shop assistant when he was a student.
4. If-clause: present, main clause: present perfect
If he drives, he has probably passed the driving test.
5. If-clause: past, main sentence: present simple/ continuous
If he passed the exam, he is probably having a rest now.
6. If-clause: past, main clause: past
If I said so, I was wrong.
7. If-clause: past, main clause: present perfect
If he stole your purse he has committed a serious crime.
8. If-clause: present perfect, main clause: present perfect
If he has stolen your purse, he has committed a serious crime.
In some types of conditional sentences if + subject + auxiliary can be replaced by inversion of auxiliary and subject, with if omitted:
If I should meet her, I’d ask her to come. à Should I meet her, I’d ask her to come.
If you had asked him to help you, he would have done that gladly. à Had you asked him to help you, he would have done it gladly.
If I were to go to London, I should visit some of the sights there. à Were I to go to London, I should visit some of the sights there.
- Verbs tenses
- Present Tenses
- Present Simple Tense
- Present Continous Tense
- Present Perfect Tense
- Present Perfect Continuous Tense
- Past Tenses
- Past Simple Tense
- Past Continuous (Progressive) Tense
- Past Perfect Tense
- Future Tenses
- The Simple Future Tense
- Future Continuous Tense
- Future Perfect Tense
- Future Perfect Continous Tense
- Stative and dynamic verbs
- Transitive and intransitive verbs
- Reflexive verbs
- Full verbs and auxiliary verbs
- Modal verbs
- Indirect speech