We use conditional sentences a lot. Here are a few:
If you are late to the theater,
you will not be seated until intermission.
If you mix ammonia and chlorine bleach,
you will create a smelly, dangerous solution.
If you take the 8 a.m. flight to New York,
you don't have to change planes.
If I were the ambassador,
I'd make sure the President hears about this.
If I were a little taller,
I'd be able to water the plant on the top shelf.
If I spoke French,
I'd love to talk to Francois.
If Ambassador Fox hadn't gone to college with the President,
he wouldn't have been given the ambassadorship.
If it had rained last night,
it wouldn't be so hot today.
If we hadn't had that problem with the car,
we wouldn't have missed the speech.
What are the differences in these three groups of conditional sentences?
Notice that the first group of three sentences are all true. Well, we don't know about the 8 a.m. flight, but it sounds as if the information is being given on good authority! All three sentences tell what will happen (result) if certain conditions are met. These are real conditions.
The second group tells what might happen (result) if some unreal conditions were met. I'm not the ambassador, I'm not taller, and I don't speak French. Thus, none of these outcomes (results) will materialize.
The third group just speculates about what would result if past conditions had been different. These are considered unreal past conditional sentences.
Forming Conditional Sentences
Conditional sentences have two clauses:
Dependent Clause Independant Clause"If" Clause"Result" ClauseConditionResultIf you stay in the sun too long, you will get sunburned!If you drink too much whiskey, you will get sick.If you study hard and practice a lot,your English will improve.
The clauses can be reversed. If the dependent (If) clause comes first in the sentence, you must separate them with a comma. You shouldn't use a comma if the independent clause comes first.
You will get sunburned if you stay in the sun too long!You will get sick if you drink too much whiskey.Your English will improve if you study hard and practice a lot.The difference in meaning between between the first pattern and the second is in the statement's intent.
Specific Warning:If you stay up too late, you'll be really tired tomorrow.General Statement: You'll be really tired tomorrow if you stay up too late.Verb Forms with Conditionals
If clause=present tense Result clause=future tenseIf you eat too much ice cream,you'll get sick.If Betsy needs help, she will call us.Unreal Conditions--present:
If clause=simple pastResult clause=would or could + base form of verbIf I had more time, I'd do exercises everyday.If you were* rich,you could buy a large house in the suburbs.If Patricia owned a dog, she would walk him everyday.* It is a peculiarity of unreal conditional sentences that all persons of the verb be are written as were. This will likely disappear in American English in the next 20 years.
If clause=past perfectResult clause=would have + past participle or would + beIf Ronald had stayed in school,he would have gotten a better job.If I had invented the personal computer,I would be rich today.If the kids hadn't eaten all the ice cream, we would have had dessert.
Questions with Conditions
You can, of course, ask questions with conditions:
Does Homer get angry if you forget to feed him?
Would it hurt the car if you put apple juice in the gas tank?
Does it hurt your computer if you leave it on all night?
What happens to your computer if you leave it on all night?
What would happen if you put apple juice in the gas tank?
Unreal: What would you do if you got the job? Real: What will you do if you get the job?
Remember: The main thing to consider when you are writing conditional sentences is whether or not the condition (IF clause) is real or possible.
If I were the king of the world, I would make it easy to write English.
If I'm your teacher next year, I'll give you some writing exercises.
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