The Conditional Tense

The Conditional Tense, Part. II

Jan 29, 2013
The Conditional Tense usage is not so easy to get used to but with some practice and more information from The Conditional Tense, Part. I you will surely learn how to do it.
In part I, we discussed how we can use the conditional tenses to talk about things that might happen in the past, present, and future. In part II, we'll be looking at how we actually conjugate all the conditional tenses. (You can refer back to part I for help with the terms used here.)

Simple action

As with other tenses, conditionals can occur in the past, present, or future, which means that they need to be conjugated accordingly. (For a refresher, check back to "The Writer's Guide to Tense, Pt. I and II" We'll be using a lot of those terms here.) For each time frame, we can also differentiate between real and unreal situations.

Present conditional (real)

For real conditions, the present continuous is used to discuss something that you normally do, i.e., something that you do often or always in the same way. The construction for present conditionals is:
If/When ... dependent clause (in simple present), ... independent clause (in simple present).
or
Independent clause (in simple present) ... if/when ... dependent clause (in simple present).
Examples
If I make dinner on the weekends, I usually cook spaghetti.
I usually cook spaghetti if I make dinner on the weekends.
When the train gets here, we need to be ready to go.
We need to be ready to go when the train gets here.

Present conditional (unreal)

For imaginary situations, the present condition is used to describe something that you would normally do under certain made-up conditions. The construction is:
If ... dependent clause (in simple past), ... independent clause (modal + verb in present).
or
Independent clause (modal + verb in present) ... if ... dependent clause (in simple past).
Examples
If I bought a new house, I would have space for all my bikes.
I would have space for all my bikes if I bought a new house.
If I ate all the cake, there would be none left for you.
There would be no cake left for you if I ate all of it.

Past conditional (real)

The past conditional is used to describe things that used to happen regularly in the past but don't happen anymore. In this tense, the word if indicates something that happened infrequently, while when shows that it happened regularly. The construction is:
If/When...dependent clause (in simple past),...independent clause (in simple past).
or
Independent clause (in simple past) ... if/when ... dependent clause (in simple past).
Examples
If I had homework to do for school, I stayed up late.
I stayed up late if I had homework to do for school.
When I owned a dog, I walked it every day.
I walked my dog every day when I owned one.

Past conditional (unreal)

The past conditional is also used to talk about imaginary situations in the past, for instance, to discuss how something could have turned differently under different conditions. The construction is:
If ... dependent clause (in past perfect), ... independent clause (modal + have + past participle).
or
Independent clause (modal + have + past participle) ... if ... dependent clause (in past perfect).
Examples
If I had called my sister, she would have known I was coming.
My sister would have known I was coming if I had called her.
If he had arrived earlier, he could have eaten some cake.
He could have eaten some cake if he had arrived earlier.

Future conditional (real)

The future conditional describes what you think would happen under specific circumstances in the future. It's not technically "real" since it hasn't happened yet, but it might be real under the conditions specified in the sentence. The construction is:
If/When ... dependent clause (in simple present), ... independent clause (in simple future).
or
Independent clause (in simple future) ... if/when ... dependent clause (in simple present).
Examples
If you eat all the cake, there will not be any left for me.
There will not be any cake left for me if you eat it all.
When my sister arrives, she will want to play with the dogs.
My sister will want to play with the dogs when she arrives.

Future conditional (unreal)

The unreal future conditional is used to describe imaginary events in the future. Since whenever we talk about the future we're imagining what might happen, this tense is usually reserved for situations that are particularly unlikely to happen. The future condition has several constructions:
If ... dependent clause (in simple past), ... independent clause (modal + verb in simple present).
or
Independent clause (modal + verb in simple present) ... if ... dependent clause (in simple past).
Examples
If I got the job, I would be able to afford a new car.
I would be able to afford a new car if I got the job.
If you get a day off work, you should go visit your mother.
You should go visit your mother if you get a day off work.
If ... dependent clause (were going to + verb), ... independent clause (would be + present participle)
or
Independent clause (would be + present participle) ... if ... dependent clause (were going to + verb)
Examples
If I were going to be out of work early enough, I would be at your party.
I would be at your party if I were going to be out of work early enough.
If we were going to be at the beach this summer, we could learn to swim.
We could learn to swim if we were going to be at the beach this summer.

Continuous action

All of the previous tenses were for simple actions, that is, actions that had clear beginning and end. We can also use conditionals to discuss continuous actions that take place over a longer time period. These are used for unreal situations.

Present continuous conditional

The present continuous conditional describes imaginary events that could be happening at this moment under particular circumstances.
If ... dependent clause (were + present participle), ... independent clause (modal + be + present participle).
or
Independent clause (modal + be + present) ... if ... dependent clause (were + present participle).
Examples
If it were raining, we would be wet right now.
We would be wet right now if it were raining.
If I were standing on the deck, I would be able to see the shore.
I would be able to see the shore if I were standing on the deck.

Past continuous conditional

The past continuous conditional describes imaginary situations that would have occurred over a period of time in the past. They have the construction:
If ... dependent clause (had been + present participle), ... independent clause (modal + have been + present participle).
or
Independent clause (modal + have been + present participle) ... if ... dependent clause (had been + present participle).
Examples
If I had been waiting, I would have been mad you were late.
I would have been mad you were late if I had been waiting.
If he hadn't been singing so loudly, I would have heard the doorbell.
I would have heard the doorbell if he hadn't been singing so loudly.

Future continuous conditional

The future continuous conditional is used to discuss the results of imaginary scenarios that will take place in the future. Note that the construction is identical to the present continuous conditional; the future tense is indicated by adding time-related words like tomorrow or next year.
If ... dependent clause (were + present participle), ... independent clause (model + be + present participle).
or
Independent clause (modal + be + present) ... if ... dependent clause (were + present participle).
Examples
If she were camping in the park next week, she would be able to see the meteors.
She would be able to see the meteors if she were camping in the park next week.
If I were staying with my parents over the vacation, I could afford a new phone.
I could afford a new phone if I were staying with my parents over the vacation.

Mixed tenses

It's also possible to have if/then statements that cross over several time period. For example, when I say "If I had left earlier, I would be arriving on time," I'm discussing how an imagined past even (if I had left earlier) is affecting a future event (arriving on time). These constructions are simply formed by mixing and matching the tenses from above. In the earlier example, the past conditional is used to discuss the event in the past, and the future conditional is used to discuss the future results. Below are a few more examples:
Past/present:If I had taken the money, I would own a new house by now.
Present/past:If I were happier, I would have enjoyed the trip we took yesterday.
Present/future:If he were older, I would take him with me to see the movie tomorrow.
Future/past:If I were running the marathon tomorrow, I would have gone to bed early last night.
Future/present:If she were going to be at the mall tomorrow, I would tell her to buy me a book.
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