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Conditionals

Ms Parrot: If You Love Me

View the video, then try the conditionals exercises to test your knowledge! Watch the whole story, or see sections of the story by selecting them from the video playlist.

Download the information on this page as a pdf or word document and the exercises in pdf format or as a word document. Download the text from the video 'If You Love Me'. If you are in China, you can see the video on youku.



Conditional sentences usually have two parts, known as clauses. One of these is a result clause; the other is an if clause. The order of the clauses can usually be reversed.

e.g.

If I get a good result I will be very happy.
[if clause] [result clause]
I will be very happy if I get a good result.
[result clause] [if clause]

The traditional types of conditional are called zero, first, second and third.

Zero: if + present + present. e.g. If you heat water to 100°C it boils.

First: if + present + future simple. e.g. If I get a good result I will be very happy.

Second: if + past simple + would + infinitive. e.g. If I got a good result I would be very happy.

Third: if + past perfect + modal + have + past participle. e.g. If I had got a good result I would have been very happy.

N.B. Time and tense are not the same. For instance, the present tense is used to refer to future time in a sentence such as If it rains, I will go.

There are many more types of conditional constructions. The following chart is based on The grammar book by Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freeman (1999, pp. 548, 552) and is used with their permission. You can also download the conditionals chart Conditionals chartas a pdf.

The chart breaks conditionals down into three main categories: factual, future and imaginative.

Factual conditionals can be timeless (outside time, expressing habits or scientific facts) or time-bound (referring to present, past or different times).

Factual
Timeless Time-bound
Generic Habitual
Outside time Present or past time All times Past time
Present tense Present or past tense; or would + infinitive Same or different tenses or modals Past tense + modal +have + past participle
e.g. If you heat water to 100C, it boils.

e.g. If I estimate the results first, it always helps.

If we misinterpreted the results, we indicated this immediately.

e.g. If you create a spreadsheet, you can formulate the results more easily.

If you legislate for X, it could occur.

If you researched the area, you must have realised the problem before we did.

e.g. If they financed the project, they may have distributed the product too.
Scientific facts Habits Implications Inferences
1 2 3 4

Future conditionals can express a strong or weak condition or result (something will happen or may happen) or be used to give advice or commands.

Future (predictive)
Strong condition or result Weakened condition or result
Future time Present or future time
Present + future tenses; or present + imperative Present time + other modal + infinitive

e.g. If you analyse the results, you will define the problem more clearly.

If you proceed with the experiment, interpret the findings carefully.

e.g. If you assess the data thoroughly, you might establish the cause of the problem.

If you benefit from the study, you should identify the key factors in its success.

Predictions. Commands

Possible plans.

Advice

5 6

Imaginative conditionals can be hypothetical (unlikely but possible in the present or future) or counterfactual (impossible, referring to present or past time).

Imaginative
Hypothetical (unlikely but possible) Counterfactual (impossible)
Present or future time Present time Past time
Past tense + modal + infinitive; or were to + infinitive + modal + infinitive Past tense + modal + infinitive Past perfect tense + modal + have + past participle

e.g. If you exported the table, it would require too much data.

If I were to process all this data, I would structure the resulting graph very carefully.

e.g. If Einstein were alive today, he would probably solve the problem. e.g. If you had contextualised the argument it would have been more useful.
Future possibilities . . . but he isn't alive today. . . . but you didn't contextualise it.
7 8 9

See the complete chart in a pdf document.

  • Uses of conditionals

    Quentin

    You can use conditionals to:

    • State scientific facts in the present tense:
            If you heat water to 100C, it boils.
    • Show habitual actions in the present or past:
            If I estimate the results first, it always helps.
            If we misinterpreted the results, we indicated this immediately.
    • Show implications:
            If you create a spreadsheet, you can formulate the results more easily.
            If you legislate for X, it could occur.
            If you researched the area, you must have realised the problem before we did.
    • Make inferences about the past:
            If they financed the project, they may have distributed the product too.
    • Make predictions about the future:
            If you analyse the results, you will define the problem more clearly.
    • Give commands:
            If you proceed with the experiment, interpret the findings carefully.
    • Show possible plans or actions:
            If you assess the data thoroughly, you might establish the cause of the problem.
    • Give advice:
            If you benefit from the study, you should identify the key factors in its success.
    • Show future possibilities:
            If you exported the table, it would require too much data.
            If I were to process all this data, I would structure the resulting graph very carefully.
    • Refer to impossible situations in the present:
            If Einstein were alive today, he would probably solve the problem.
    • Refer to impossible situations in the past:
            If you had contextualised the argument it would have been more useful.

    You can also use conditionals to:

    • Speak humourously. e.g. If that's the best Gordon Chan can do, I'm glad he doesn't cook for me!
    • Speak sarcastically. e.g. As if she knew!
  • Other words that sometimes introduce conditionality

      Winners

    These words do not always introduce a conditional sentence. It is important to look at the context of the whole sentence in order to decide whether or not it is conditional. You should also note the word order and punctuation of the examples, and see whether the parts of the phrases can be separated.

    As long as

    As long as you submit the essay on time, I'll mark it quickly.

    = I'll mark the essay quickly if you submit it on time.

    They would like to help with the group assignment, as long as the rest of the group are happy to include them.

    = They would like to help with the group assignment if the rest of the group are happy to include them.

    Even though (But . . . still . . .)

    She will write a draft report, even though you haven't finished gathering data.= You haven't finished gathering data, but she will still write a draft report.

    N.B. When you use even though, you should not put but as well. Also, note that even though is used in the other clause when you rewrite the sentence. If you use but, put it in the same clause as still. You can separate the words but and still, as in the following example:

      She will still write a draft report, even though you haven't finished gathering data.
      You haven't finished gathering data, but she will still write a draft report.

    Only if

    It's only if the book doesn't arrive in time that you should talk to the librarian.

    They decided not to publish the results before 2016, and then only if the results were conclusive.

    N.B. If you start a sentence with only if, you need to reverse the subject and verb in the second clause:

    Only if the book is late should you talk to the librarian.

    This example is not a question; it has the subject (you) and verb (should) reversed because the sentence starts with only if.

    Otherwise (If . . . not . . .)

    I should sharpen all my pencils, otherwise I will be unable to start writing.

    = If I do not sharpen all my pencils, I will be unable to start writing.

    The grant amount was small, otherwise all areas of the research would have been covered.

    = If the grant amount had not been small, all areas of the research would have been covered. 

    Provided (that) (interchangeable with providing that)

    Provided that the video is ready on time, it will be uploaded to the website.

    = If the video is ready on time, it will be uploaded to the website.

     We will complete the exercise tomorrow, provided that the computer code is available.

    = We will complete the exercise tomorrow, provided the computer code is available.
    = We will complete the exercise tomorrow if the computer code is available.

    Providing (that) (interchangeable with provided that)

    They will go to the conference providing that they receive enough funding.

    = They will go to the conference, providing they receive enough funding.
    = They will go to the conference if they receive enough funding.

    (Even) Supposing (that)

    Even supposing that I wished to apply for the job, I could not.

    = Even if I wished to apply for the job, I could not.

     Supposing you were to redo the experiment, would you expect to find similar results?

    = If you were to redo the experiment, would you expect to find similar results?

    Unless (= If . . . not . . .)

    Your writing will be boring unless you vary your vocabulary more.

    = Your writing will be boring if you do not vary your vocabulary more.

    People will not believe you have been to Australia unless they see a photo of you standing next to the Sydney Opera House.

    = People will not believe you have been to Australia if they do not see a photo of you standing next to the Sydney Opera House.

    When (Always . . . if . . .)

    Students should always access the Internet through the library website when they want to use the "Oxford English Dictionary" free of charge.

    = Students should always access the Internet through the library website if they want to use the "Oxford English Dictionary" free of charge.

    Conditionals audience

    Whenever (Always . . . if . . .)

    She avoided those lectures whenever she could.

    = She always avoided those lectures if she could.

    Whether or not ((Even) if . . . (not) . . .)

     The lecturer will not remark your exam, whether or not you failed.

    = The lecturer will not remark your exam, even if you failed.
    = The lecturer will not remark your exam, even if you did not pass.

    N.B. Whether or not can be separated: The lecturer will not remark your exam, whether you failed or not.

    The information on this page is largely based on Celce-Murcia, M., & Larsen-Freeman, D. (1999). The grammar book (2nd ed). US: Heinle & Heinle. We highly recommend that book, and the new edition out soon, for anyone who wants a more detailed explanation of English grammar.

     

  • Conditionals in the video 'If You Love Me'

    If you love me

    If you heat water to 100C it boils. (factual, timeless, scientific fact - 1)

    If you see the right girl, you know. (factual, timeless, scientific fact - 1)

    Even if I had homework, I still helped them with their fish farm. (factual, timeless, habit - 2)

    If you walk on snow, you cannot hide your footprints. (factual, timeless, habit - 2)

    If I can look after a fish, I can look after a girl! (factual, timebound, all times - 3)

    I like you, even though you studied maths and I studied history.  (factual, timebound, all times - 3)

    Whenever I see someone in trouble, I like to help them. (present + present, factual, timeless, generic - 3)

    If you were there, you might have seen me. (factual, time-bound, past time, inferences - 4)

    If you always give, you will always have. (future, strong result, future time, prediction - 5)

    I want to find a girlfriend, otherwise I will be lonely. (future, strong result, future, prediction - 5)

    If you like this man, please vote. (future, strong result, future, command - 5)

    I think you should always stop and help someone, unless they are too dangerous. (future, weakened condition, advice - 6)

    Provided that we are both honest with each other and communicate well, I think we could be very happy. (future, weakened condition- 6)

    What would you do if you found your ideal girl? (imaginative, hypothetical, future, future dream - 7)

    If my mother were here, she would say you are a nice boy! (imaginative, counterfactual, present, impossible - 8)

    If you had had more money when you were younger, would you have bought a fast car? (imaginative, counterfactual, past time - 9)

    If I had had more money, I would have given it to my parents. (imaginative, counterfactual, past time - 9)

    Conditionals audience 2

Download the information on this page as a pdf and the exercises in pdf format.

Celce-Murcia, M., & Larsen-Freeman, D. (1999). The grammar book (2nd ed). US: Heinle & Heinle. pp. 548, 552

Swan, M. (1980). Practical English usage. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (I used this older edition, but there are much newer editions.)

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