Sunday, 10 April 2011

CONDITIONALS

Structure of Conditional Sentences

The structure of most conditionals is very simple. There are two basic possibilities. Of course, we add many words and can use various tenses, but the basic structure is usually like this:

IFconditionresult
IFy = 102y = 20

or like this:

resultIFcondition
2y = 20IFy = 10

First Conditional: real possibility

We are talking about the future. We are thinking about a particular condition or situation in the future, and the result of this condition. There is a real possibility that this condition will happen. For example, it is morning. You are at home. You plan to play tennis this afternoon. But there are some clouds in the sky. Imagine that it rains. What will you do?
IFconditionresult
 present simpleWILL + base verb
Ifit rainsI will stay at home.
Notice that we are thinking about a future condition. It is not raining yet. But the sky is cloudy and you think that it could rain. We use the present simple tense to talk about the possible future condition. We use WILL + base verb to talk about the possible future result. The important thing about the first conditional is that there is a real possibility that the condition will happen. Here are some more examples (do you remember the two basic structures: [IF condition result] and [result IF condition]?):
IFconditionresult
 present simpleWILL + base verb
IfI see MaryI will tell her.
IfTara is free tomorrowhe will invite her.
Ifthey do not pass their examtheir teacher will be sad.
Ifit rains tomorrowwill you stay at home?
Ifit rains tomorrowwhat will you do?
 
resultIFcondition
WILL + base verb present simple
I will tell MaryifI see her.
He will invite Taraifshe is free tomorrow.
Their teacher will be sadifthey do not pass their exam.
Will you stay at homeifit rains tomorrow?
What will you doifit rains tomorrow?

Second Conditional: unreal possibility or dream

The second conditional is like the first conditional. We are still thinking about the future. We are thinking about a particular condition in the future, and the result of this condition. But there is not a real possibility that this condition will happen. For example, you do not have a lottery ticket. Is it possible to win? No! No lottery ticket, no win! But maybe you will buy a lottery ticket in the future. So you can think about winning in the future, like a dream. It's not very real, but it's still possible.
IFconditionresult
 past simpleWOULD + base verb
IfI won the lotteryI would buy a car.
Notice that we are thinking about a future condition. We use the past simple tense to talk about the future condition. We use WOULD + base verb to talk about the future result. The important thing about the second conditional is that there is an unreal possibility that the condition will happen.
Here are some more examples:
IFconditionresult
 past simpleWOULD + base verb
IfI married MaryI would be happy.
IfRam became richshe would marry him.
Ifit snowed next Julywould you be surprised?
Ifit snowed next Julywhat would you do?
 
resultIFcondition
WOULD + base verb past simple
I would be happyifI married Mary.
She would marry Ramifhe became rich.
Would you be surprisedifit snowed next July?
What would you doifit snowed next July?

Third Conditional: no possibility

The first conditional and second conditionals talk about the future. With the third conditional we talk about the past. We talk about a condition in the past that did not happen. That is why there is no possibility for this condition. The third conditional is also like a dream, but with no possibility of the dream coming true.
Last week you bought a lottery ticket. But you did not win. :-(

conditionresult
 Past PerfectWOULD HAVE + Past Participle
IfI had won the lotteryI would have bought a car.
Notice that we are thinking about an impossible past condition. You did not win the lottery. So the condition was not true, and that particular condition can never be true because it is finished. We use the past perfect tense to talk about the impossible past condition. We use WOULD HAVE + past participle to talk about the impossible past result. The important thing about the third conditional is that both the condition and result are impossible now.
Sometimes, we use should have, could have, might have instead of would have, for example: If you had bought a lottery ticket, you might have won.
Look at some more examples in the tables below:
IFconditionresult
 past perfectWOULD HAVE + past participle
IfI had seen MaryI would have told her.
IfTara had been free yesterdayI would have invited her.
Ifthey had not passed their examtheir teacher would have been sad.
Ifit had rained yesterdaywould you have stayed at home?
Ifit had rained yesterdaywhat would you have done?
 
resultIFcondition
WOULD HAVE + past participle past perfect
I would have told MaryifI had seen her.
I would have invited Taraifshe had been free yesterday.
Their teacher would have been sadifthey had not passed their exam.
Would you have stayed at homeifit had rained yesterday?
What would you have doneifit had rained yesterday?

Zero Conditional: certainty

We use the so-called zero conditional when the result of the condition is always true, like a scientific fact.
Take some ice. Put it in a saucepan. Heat the saucepan. What happens? The ice melts (it becomes water). You would be surprised if it did not.
IFconditionresult
 present simplepresent simple
Ifyou heat iceit melts.
Notice that we are thinking about a result that is always true for this condition. The result of the condition is an absolute certainty. We are not thinking about the future or the past, or even the present. We are thinking about a simple fact. We use the present simple tense to talk about the condition. We also use the present simple tense to talk about the result. The important thing about the zero conditional is that the condition always has the same result.
We can also use when instead of if, for example: When I get up late I miss my bus.
Look at some more examples in the tables below:
IFconditionresult
 present simplepresent simple
IfI miss the 8 o'clock busI am late for work.
IfI am late for workmy boss gets angry.
Ifpeople don't eatthey get hungry.
Ifyou heat icedoes it melt?
 
resultIFcondition
present simple present simple
I am late for workifI miss the 8 o'clock bus.
My boss gets angryifI am late for work.
People get hungryifthey don't eat.
Does ice meltifyou heat it?

Conditionals: Summary

Here is a chart to help you to visualize the basic English conditionals. Do not take the 50% and 10% figures too literally. They are just to help you.
probabilityconditionalexampletime
100%

zero conditionalIf you heat ice, it melts.any time
50%

first conditionalIf it rains, I will stay at home.future
10%

second conditionalIf I won the lottery, I would buy a car.future
0%
third conditionalIf I had won the lottery, I would have bought a car.past

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