Rliberni's Blog – Radical language

July 2, 2009

Conditional Sentences – how lovely!

I love conditionals! I really do – all types 1, 2, 3 and mixed, real and unreal – they’re fab! Right from when I started teaching (many eons ago!), I looked forward to conditionals. I don’t believe many students share my adoration, I hope there are a few and I hope that they may be former students of mine!

So, what’s so great about them I hear you say. I think the uncertainty, the speculation, the planning, admonition and finally regret that they represent. They cover a wide emotional spectrum that really exposes how we feel and not just what we do. Like most of grammar, they are simply tools to help us express something and connect with others which, I’m sure , is the ultimate reason for learning a language whatever other reasons may present themselves along the way.

It’s all in the conditionals – a salutary tale.

Imagine, if you will, a saloon bar. Four men; Jethro, Wade, Rusty and Wild Beau Bronson (yep, cowboys) looking downcast. They’ve just lost all their money in a game of poker.

J: “I reckon we ought to rob the stagecoach”

W: “Nah, too risky, what about a bank?”

R: ” Good idea, and if we do it really early in the morning nobody will see us!”     (1st condit. suggestion/planning)

WBB: “Aw, if we do that, there won’t be any money inside!”     (1st condit. suggestion)

W: “You’re right Beau, but if we hit the bank at closing time we’ll clean up!”        (1st condit. suggestion)

J: “Sure, and if we use our wild rags over our faces then nobody will recognise us!”         (1st condit. suggestion)

Next morning

W:“OK, Jethro, all set? If I were you I’d go first then we can back you up”         (2nd condit. advice)

J:“If I went first they might not take me seriously, I think it would be better if Beau was the front man.”  (2nd condit. speculation)

W:I see your point but if Beau were to go first he might shoot someone! What about Rusty?” (2nd condit.  warning)

WBB:“If Rusty and Jethro started then we could run in behind as back-up!”   (2nd condit.  suggestion)

R:“Let’s just get on with it, if we go round in circles we’ll never get it planned!” (1st  condit. command)

Two days later

WBB:“Sheriff, what about some grub in here?”

R:“It’s all your fault Jethro, if you hadn’t been late then we wouldn’t have met the Sheriff”  (3rd condit. admonition)

W:“And if you hadn’t told the Sheriff we were waiting to withdraw money from the bank he wouldn’t have been suspicious!” (3rd condit. admonition)

WWB:“Yep, but what could we do, if he hadn’t grabbed my arm I wouldn’t have drawn my gun!” (3rd condit. regret)

J:“And if we’d done our homework we would have known that the bank closed on Wednesday afternoons!” (3rd condit. admonition/regret)

ALL: “And if we hadn’t lost the poker game in the first place, we wouldn’t be here now!!” (mixed 3/2. regret)

Conditionals – the rules

  • First, likely or possible:  if + pres simple + will + infinitive without to (offers, plans, suggestions, warnings)


  • Second, unlikely or improbable: if + past simple + would + infinitive without to (advice, requests, desires, warnings)


  • Third, past or impossible/unreal:  if + past perfect tense + would + have + past participle (hypothetical situations, regrets, warnings, admonition)


  •  Mixed 2/3 – a hypothetical present situation contrary to to known facts

If the house were mine I would have painted it green.

  • Mixed 3/2 –  a hypothetical past situation contrary to known facts

If they hadn’t missed the flight they would be on the beach now.

I hope this helps to illustrate the usage a little and you too will come to love conditionals!


1 Comment »

  1. […] ought to, ought not to, should, should not, must, must not, had better, had better not are all used to give advice which is another function of modal verbs. (for advice using conditionals see my post on conditionals) […]

    Pingback by Using Modal Verbs – part two « Rliberni’s Blog — January 6, 2010 @ 12:41 am | Reply

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