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Conditional clauses - Easy Learning Grammar

Conditional sentences consist of a main clause and a conditional clause (sometimes called an if-clause). The conditional clause usually begins with if or unless. The conditional clause can come before or after the main clause.
  • We’ll be late if we don’t leave now.
  • We’ll be late unless we leave now.
  • If we don’t leave now, we’ll be late.
  • Unless we leave now, we’ll be late.
There are three main types of conditional sentence.Type 1The main clause uses will, can, may, or might + the base form of a main verb. The if-clause uses the present simple tense.
  • If you take the first bus, you’ll get there on time.
  • She’ll be cold if she doesn’t wear a coat.
  • If you need more helpers, I can try and get some time off work.
Type 1 sentences refer to the future. They suggest that the action in the main clause is quite likely to happen.
  • They will not finish their homework unless they start now.
  • If you book early, you will get a seat.
The use of the modal verb may or might in the main clause suggests that there is some doubt whether the main verb action will be achieved.
  • If you book early, you may get a seat.
  • Mary might deliver your parcel, if you ask her.
Type 2The main clause uses would, could, or might + the base form of a main verb. The if-clause uses the past simple tense
  • If Jim lent us his car, we could go to the party.
  • We would save £3.50 a day if we didn’t eat any lunch.
  • If burglars broke into my house, they wouldn’t find any money.
  • Would you be very angry if I failed my exam?
or the past subjunctive.
  • If I were you, I’d phone her straight away.
Type 2 sentences refer to an imaginary situation. They imply that the action in the if-clause will probably not happen.
  • If I won the lottery, I would buy a house in France.
    (…but I don’t think I’ll win the lottery.)
  • If you didn’t spend all your money on lottery tickets, you could afford a holiday.
    (…but you do spend all your money on lottery tickets.)
The past subjunctive is often used when giving advice to someone, especially about what the person should do.
  • If I were you, I’d tell them the truth.
Type 3The main clause uses would, could, or might + have + the past participle of a main verb. The if-clause uses the past perfect tense.
  • We could have had a longer holiday, if we hadn’t spent so much money on the house.
  • If I had known about the exam, I would have paid more attention in class.
In Type 3 sentences the speaker is looking back from the present to a past time and event. The speaker is talking about what might have happened but did not, either because the wrong thing was done or because nothing was done. This type of sentence is used when making excuses, showing regret, blaming, or giving an explanation.Conditional clauses can also be used to talk about consequences, or to give an opinion about a situation in the following ways:
  • The if-clause uses the present simple tense and the main clause uses the present simple tense. This is used to refer to universal truths.
  • If you heat water to 100°C, it boils.
  • Plants die if they don’t get enough water.
  • The if-clause uses the present simple tense and the main clause is in the imperative. This is used to give advice or orders for particular situations or sets of circumstances.
  • If the alarm goes off, make your way outside to the car park.
  • If a red light shows here, switch off the machine.
  • The if-clause uses the present continuous or present simple tense and the main clause uses a modal verb. This is used to make suggestions and give advice.
  • If you’re thinking of buying a lawnmower, you could try mine first.
  • You should turn down his radio if you don’t want the neighbours
  • to complain.
  • The if-clause uses will/would and the main clause uses a modal verb.
This is used to make a request or to give a polite order.
  • If you’ll wait a minute, the doctor can see you.
  • If you would sign here, please, I’ll be able to send you the books.
Note that a ’d in the main clause is the contracted form of would. However, a ’d in an if-clause is the contracted form of had.
  • I’d have gone if he’d invited me.
  • I would have gone if he had invited me.
  • I would’ve gone if he’d invited me.
In the main clause the contracted forms of the modals used in speech and informal writing are:
I’d haveorI would’ve
I could’ve      I might’ve

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