Conditional Sentences: Real and Unreal

Conditional
Sentences: Real and Unreal

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" Clause
Condition  Result
If 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

Factual conditions:

 

If clause=present
tense 
Result
clause
=future tense
If you eat too much ice cream, you'll get sick.
If Betsy needs help,  she will call us.

Unreal Conditions--present:

 

If clause=simple
past
Result
clause
=would or could + base form of verb
If 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.

Unreal Conditions--past:

 

If clause=past
perfect
Result
clause
=would have + past participle or  
would + be
If 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:

Yes-no Questions

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?

Information Questions

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.

Unreal condition:

If I were the king of the world,
I would make it easy to write English.

Real condition:

If I'm your teacher next year, I'll
give you some writing exercises.

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