English Grammar – Conditionals
We can divide conditionals into 3 categories as they each have their own particular structure and use. Conditional sentences generally have two parts: the condition or ‘if-clause’ and the ‘result’ clause. The Bright Grammar used of course the 3 categories of conditionnals.
- If I have time this afternoon, I’ll read over your report.
- If I had more time, I would join you at the restaurant.
- If he had been more careful, he wouldn’t have made such a silly mistake.
On the Bright, there are frequently questions, especially in Part 5 that try to test your knowledge of this grammar point by giving you a choice of tenses (which don’t correspond to the conditional sentence) in the ‘if-clause’ or by using variants that you may not be familiar with. The examples which follow will hopefully help you avoid falling into the trap!
Generally, we can say that the first conditional talks about a true situation that can most likely lead to a certain result.
if + present tense, + will/won’t
- If we ask him to change the meeting time, he won’t be happy.
In all conditional sentences, we can switch the sentence around and put the result before the condition (there is no comma separating the clauses, in this case):
- He won’t be happy if we ask him to change the meeting time.
Common mistake: Do not use ‘will/won’t’ in the ‘if-clause’
- If we
willimprove our marketing techniques, we will raise sales.
> Variations and use of other words for first conditionals
Instead of ‘will/won’t’ in the result clause, we can also use the imperative or other modal verbs.
- If Sally calls this morning, tell her I’ll call her back after my meeting.
- If there’s a train strike, the candidates may arrive late.
- If we don’t finish preparing the presentation on time, we must tell our manager to delay the meeting.
Unless means ‘if…not’ and refers to the conditional part of the sentence and not the result part.
- If she doesn’t delete some of her emails, her in-box will soon be full.
- Unless she deletes some of her emails, her in-box will soon be full.
We can use ‘provided that/providing’, ‘as long as’ and ‘so long as’ to emphasize a condition.
- I will sign the contract provided that you offer a discount on large orders.
- As long as we work well together, we’ll have no problem succeeding.
Second conditionals are used to speak about a situation which is contrary to the fact. In the ‘if-clause’ the past tense refers to something unreal, that you imagine to be real. In the ‘result’ clause, you are referring to a possible future action which in fact is not very probable.
if + past tense, + would/wouldn’t, might, could
- If I had a bigger budget, I would offer English training to everyone in the department!
(But, unfortunately, I don’t have a bigger budget, so it’s improbable that everyone will get English training.)
We can also use ‘might’ and ‘could’ instead of ‘would’.
- If they were given a good moving package, they might be willing to move to another country.
- If the terms of the agreement are unacceptable, they could ask us to rewrite it.
If we take the example above about the move and change the sentence to a singular subject, we can see that ‘were’ remains the same. This is the correct grammatical form, even though many native English speakers say ‘If I was’ or ‘If she/he was’.
- If she were given a good moving package, she might be willing to move to another country.
- If I were…
The third conditional also speaks about a situation which is contrary to the fact and its result, but in this case we imagine a different past action and a different result.
Here is an example of a past situation:
- I spoke with my team about the customer complaints we were getting. We decided on an action plan and put it into place.
if + had (not) done (past perfect tense), + would/wouldn’t + have done
Now taking the example, we can imagine a different past action with a different result:
- If I hadn’t spoken with my team about the customer complaints, we wouldn’t have put an action plan into place.
Common mistakes: We do not use ‘would’ in the if-clause.
- If I
would have knownyou were coming, I would have saved you a seat.
- If I had known you were coming, I would have saved you a seat.
We can use ‘could’ or ‘might’ instead of ‘would’.
- If the weather had been better yesterday, we could have eaten outside.
- If we hadn’t sent the quotation so late, we might not have lost the sale.
Another variation found on the Bright is the following:
- Had we not made a bid, we would never have obtained the contract.
In this example, the word ‘If’ is replaced by inversing ‘had’ and the subject (If we had…).