When I was at school, I noted one peculiar topic at the English lesson. It touched three possible variants of the sequence of events when there was if in one’s speech. The main hardship for me was to understand all this stuff connected with irreality and the correct ways of its manifestation in the speech.
Moreover, I was totally confused when I got to know that there were different exceptions. Furthermore, my mind could not realize how parts of a sentence of different types could be mixed!
Nevertheless, time goes on and the understanding of the irreality and its grammatical manifestation comes with it. So, I would like to tell you about this intriguing topic in the world of grammar.
The first thing you should remember about conditional sentences is that most of them have a sub-clause starting with the word if. Every day, we can use many different verb forms in conditional sentences. Let us look at the examples.
If you have not got television, you cannot watch it;
If you go to one of the agencies, they have a lot of temporary jobs;
If someone else has requested the book, you would have to give it back;
If you lived on another planet, you would not understand my language and gestures.
In general, we use verb forms in conditional sentences in the same way as in other kinds of sentences.
In an open condition (when something may or may not happen), we use the present tense: If you go to one of the agencies. When we talk about something unreal, we often use the past tense: If you lived on another planet. After an unreal condition, we use would in the main clause: you would not understand my language and gestures.
There are some verb forms which often go together. These patterns are usually called Types 1, 2, and 3.
Type 1: If the campaign fails, we will lose our money;
Type 2: If the campaign failed, we would lose our money;
Type 3: If the campaign had failed, we would have lost our money.
There is another pattern which we can call Type 0.
Type 0: If the company fails, we lose our money.
The if-clause usually comes before the main clause, but it can come after it.
If you are in hurry, you can go right now;
You can go right now if you are in hurry.
A comma between the clauses is more likely when the if-clause comes first and less likely when it comes at the end.
We can use conditional sentences in a number of different ways: Not only to give information but also, for example, when we request, advise, criticize, and so on.
|Requesting||If you are going into town, could you post this letter for me, please?|
|Criticizing||If you’d remembered your password, we wouldn’t be in such a rush.|
|Suggesting||We can go in the cinema if you have a desire.|
|Offering||If you’d like a sandwich, just help yourself.|
|Warning||If you do not smear your lips with hygienic lipstick, you can wind them up.|
|Threatening||If you do not eat it immediately, I will call your mother!|
|Advising||If your headache persists, you should see a doctor.|
Type 1 Conditionals
This is a very common type. The basic pattern is if … + present … + will.
If it snows, all activities will be in the house.
If we don’t hurry, we won’t get there in time.
The if-clause expresses an open condition. In the first example, If it snows leaves open the question of whether it will rain or not. The present simple (snows) expresses future time.
We do not normally use will in the if-clause. But we can utilize will in the if-clause to say about something that is further in the future than the action of the main clause.
If this medicine does me/will do me good, I will take it.
As well as the present simple, we can utilize the present continuous or perfect.
If we are having a party, we will have to invite the neighbors;
If I have finished my work by ten, I will probably watch a film on TV.
As well as will, we can utilize other modal verbs and similar expressions in the main clause.
If someone sees me, how can I explain what I am doing?
We can also use the imperative in the main clause.
If you have got a problem, ring our helpline.
We can use will in the if-clause for willingness and won’t for a refusal.
If all of you will lend a hand, we will soon get the job done;
If the car won’t start, I will have to stay at home today.
We can utilize will in the if-clause for a request.
If you will just sign here, please. Thank you.
Type 2 Conditionals
The basic pattern is if … + past … would.
If I had a wife, I would travel for the whole year.
In this case, we can observe the situation where the observed time shows an unreal condition. In the first example, If I had a wife means that really I haven’t got a wife; I am only imagining a situation where I have.
! We do not normally use would in the if-clause.
We also use the Type 2 pattern for a theoretical possibility in the future.
If we grabbed a taxi in a couple of hours, we would be in London by dinner.
Here the past tense refers to a possible future action such as grabbing the taxi in a couple of hours.
Compare Types 1 and 2:
Type 1: If we stay in a hotel, it will be expensive;
Type 2: If we stayed in a hotel, it would be expensive.
Type 1 expresses the action as an open possibility – we may or may not stay in a hotel. Type 2 expresses the action as a theoretical possibility only, something more distant from reality.
Sometimes, it can be more polite to use Type 2 rather than Type 1, for example when making a request.
Would it be comfortable if I occupied this seat? – Yes, of course.
Here Type 1 would be more direct and less tentative.
Type 3 Conditionals
The basic pattern if … + past perfect … + would + perfect.
If you had caught a train, you would have got here in time.
I would have bought that bag yesterday if I had got a good mood.
Here the verb forms refer to something unreal, to an imaginary past action. In the first example, if you had caught a train means that really you did not catch a train; I am only imagining the situation where you did.
We cannot use the past simple or the past perfect in the main clause. Usually, we do not use would in the if-clause. But we can:
- Use could + perfect in the if-clause.
- As well as would, we can utilize other modal verbs such as could or might in the main clause.
- Use continuous forms
- We can Types 2 and 3.
- We can also use a Type 1 condition with a Type 3 main clause.
As you can see, the topic connected with irreality of events and its grammatical manifestation is rather tricky but quite interesting for learning. If you know the rules regarding three types of conditions in a sentence, you will certainly enrich your language!