Grammar: Conditional Clause / Sentence

Posted December 20, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Grammar Explanations, Self-Editing, Writing

The conditional is sometimes referred to as progressive, so let’s get out there right away. God knows, it was confusing for me.

It doesn’t help when they throw continuous into the pot. Continuous is a variation on the conditional and simply means it’s an ongoing situation. It hasn’t stopped yet. Hmmm, sounds like my fantasy life…

It Doesn’t Make Sense That…

…in the past, these were referred to as conditional tenses, i.e., could / might / should / would + infinitive OR could / might / should / would + perfect infinitive (Where would is indicated, you may also use could, might, or should.)

The Conditional / Progressive Tense Is…

What conditional / progressive is, is a verb tense with the requisite present, past, and future variations, and it is that verb tense which is used in conditional sentences. In this case, clause = sentence. The conditional is mostly used in sentences, but it can also be a clause, so I’ll be referring to it as a clause AND it could mean either one.

If you are approached by an armored tiger, you should not invoke the power of Grayskull.

If you pick up an article, remember that knowing is half the battle.

The Conditional / Progressive Clause Is…

What a conditional clause does is express a condition and an outcome, an if-then situation. If Johnny comes down with a cold, I will have to nurse him. Of course, there are “100s” of variables on this depending upon whether it’s past, present, future, continuous, perfect (yeah, right) or ???

In general, The first part of each sentence sets an hypothesis, the condition, the if. The second part of each sentence is actually a complete sentence that could stand on its own. It’s the then, the conclusion. What would happen if.

Always look for the if. If it is followed by a complete sentence, you’re gold. It’s definitely a conditional sentence.

Real Conditional Clauses

This is not a tense, but a way of using progressive (continuous) verb tenses to write sentences about real-life situations in the present, past, and future. This condition is neutral because it may or may not be true.

Unreal Conditional Clauses

This is not a tense, but a way of using progressive (continuous) verb tenses to write sentences about imaginary situations in the present, past, and future. It implies that the speaker does not think that the condition will be, is, or has been fulfilled, and therefore the main clause is either in doubt or untrue.

Continuous Conditional Clauses

Definition: Expresses a temporary action or state that began at a previous time and continues into the present time (or other time of reference).

A.k.a., conditional + continuous, progressive

CAUTION: Be careful not to use non-continuous verbs or certain non-continuous meanings for mixed verbs in continuous conditionals.

The Exceptions

What? You thought this would be set in concrete? Hah. Certain tenses can do without the if. Most of the conditionals can swap if-then for then-if. Certain words — some-s and any-s, time clauses, the was/were rule, modal verbs, and more have different requirements.

Grammar Explanations is…

…an evolving list of the structural rules and principles that determines where words are placed in phrases or sentences as well as how the language is spoken. Sometimes I run across an example that helps explain better or another “also known as”. Heck, there’s always a better way to explain it, so if it makes quicker and/or better sense, I would appreciate suggestions and comments from anyone… Are there areas of grammar with which you struggle?

If you’d like to track it, bookmark this page. And consider sharing this Grammar Explanation with friends by tweeting it.

Conditional Sentences
A.k.a., if Clause
Credit to: Textbroker.com; Rob De Decker; Capital Community College Foundation; English Page; Englisch-Hilfen.de; Lingua Press
Definition: A two-part sentence using a continuous (a.k.a., progressive) verb that describes the result of something that might happen in the present, the future, or that might have happened in the past but didn’t, using an if-then or then-if structure:

  1. A dependent if / when / unless or conditional clause or similar expressing the condition
  2. A main clause, the result clause, expressing the conditional circumstance

Rule: Always use a comma after the if clause IF it comes first.

Post Contents:
A lot of books and sites refer to the conditionals as:
Zero Conditional
1st Conditional
2nd Conditional
3rd Conditional
General Information:
Conditional Classifications
Anatomy of a Conditional Clause
Two Parts to a Conditional Sentence
Words That Introduce a Conditional Clause
General “Conditional” Rules
Was/Were Rule
Time Clause
REAL Conditionals

UNREAL Conditionals

A.k.a., if clause, conditional clause, conditional conjunction, conditional phrase, clause of condition

Conditional Classifications
DISCLAIMER: Conditionals have been referred to as conditional tenses. It’s actually referring to the continuous (or progressive) verb that is used in conditional clauses or sentences.

Many grammar books and websites also refer to various clauses as zero conditional, first conditional, second conditional, third conditional, and mixed conditionals.

REAL UNREAL
Describes real-life situations Describes imaginary situations
Conditional Continuous Conditional Conditional Continuous
Present Real
a.k.a., Zero Conditional
Present Real Continuous

Present Perfect Real Continuous

Present Unreal
a.k.a., Second Conditional
Present Unreal Continuous

Present Perfect Unreal Continuous

Past Real Past Real Continuous

Past Perfect Real Continuous

Past Unreal
a.k.a., Third Conditional
Past Unreal Continuous
Future Real
a.k.a., First Conditional
Future Real Continuous

Future Perfect Real Continuous

Future Unreal Future Unreal Continuous

Future Perfect Unreal Continuous

Mixed Conditional
Anatomy of a Conditional Clause
Two Parts to a Conditional Sentence

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Definition:

  1. Conditional clause sets up the condition
    1. If suggests something that happens less frequently. It is the most common word to begin a conditional clause, common enough that it is frequently referred to as the if clause.
    2.  
    3. Unless infers if not
    4.  
    5. When suggests something that happens regularly or will definitely happen at some point; we are simply waiting for it to occur
  2. Main clause states the result of the condition
    1. A.k.a., …the consequent in a conditional sentence
Words That Introduce a Conditional Clause

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Rule: While if is the most common word used, there are a few more, although not all of them are used in all present, past, or future variations. See the specific entries for which allows for it. Or not.
List of Introductory Words for a Conditional Clause
if *
unless *
when **
on condition (that)
provided (that)
providing (that)

* Most common

** Second most common

General “Conditional” Rules
Was / Were Rule: If the if clause includes the verb to be, then the was is replaced by were. Although fashion is again changing, and it is becoming slightly more acceptable to use was. I recommend erring on the side of caution: go with were unless the situation is informal or dialog.
Time Clause Rule: Future tenses cannot be used in clauses beginning with time expressions such as:

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after
as soon as
before
by the time
if
unless
when
while
Real Conditional
Definition: This is not a tense, but a way of using progressive (continuous) verb tenses to write sentences about real-life situations in the present, past, and future. This condition is neutral because it may or may not be true.

A.k.a., open condition, real condition

PRESENT – REAL
Present Real Conditional

(Zero Conditional)

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Definition: Describes what you normally do in real-life situations or a a two-part general situation in which things are always true, like a scientific fact.

You can reverse the forms from condition/result to result/condition.

Rule: Uses if, unless, or when:

  • If suggests something that happens infrequently
    • To express willingness, as in requests, use will or would in an if clause.
  • Unless think of it as an except if, if not, or only if
  • When suggests something that happens regularly

Form:

[if / when / unless *] + simple present, + simple present
(the condition) (the result)
[if / when / unless *] + simple present, + imperative
(the condition) (the result)

To express willingness, as in requests, use will or would in an if clause.

A.k.a., present open condition, conditional certainty present, conditions of fact, zero conditional, conditional simple, simple conditional

I talk
you talk
s/he/it talks
we talk
they talk
Examples:
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the simple present or imperative
  2. Blue indicates the if / unless / when clause (the condition)
  3. Italics indicate an explanation of the above sentence

If I go to a friend’s house for dinner, I usually take a bottle of wine or some flowers.

I rarely go to a friend’s house for dinner.


When I have a day off from work, I often go to the beach.

I frequently have days off from work.


If the weather is nice, Janis often walks to work.

When I go to Rye, I stay with my father-in-law in the new town.

Jerry helps me with my homework when he has time.

I read if there is nothing on TV.

What do you do if it rains ?

When Saturday comes around, I go to the movies.

Unless he asks you politely, refuse to do any more work on the project.


You can’t enter unless you have a ticket.

Only if you have a ticket, can you enter.


Press the button if you want a receipt.

If you want to leave a message, speak after the tone.

Facts
If you heat ice, it melts.

Ice melts if you heat it.


If you hit a ball, it moves.

When it rains, things get wet.

Unless you have been there yourself, you can’t understand its beauty.

People die if they don’t eat.

You get water when you mix hydrogen and oxygen.

Snakes bite if they are scared.

A balloon can’t inflate unless you blow air into it.

Present Real Conditional Continuous

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Definition: It describes imaginary situations which could be happening at this very moment.

Rule: Only uses:

  • if
  • were, not was

Form:

if + [were + -ing], + [would be] + -ing
(the condition) (the result)
If I were talking, you would be listening
If you were talking, I would be listening
If s/he/it were talking, you would be listening
If we were talking, you would be listening
If they were talking, you would be listening
Examples:
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the were + -ing (present participle)
  2. White-on-Green indicates the would be + -ing (present participle)
  3. Blue indicates the imaginary situation
  4. Italics indicate an explanation of the above sentence

If the sun were shining, I would be going to the beach.

Unfortunately, it is raining, so I can’t go.


If Sam were sitting here, he would be cooking up the bacon.

But Sam is not sitting here. He is somewhere else.


We would be able to go sailing if the wind were blowing.

But there is no wind, so we can’t go sailing.


If I were in Hawaii, I would be lying on the beach.

But I am not in Hawaii.


If my grandfather were here, he would be talking about the war.

But he is not here.


I would be rafting down the Colorado River right now if my leg weren’t broken.

But my leg is broken, so I am not there.


If my grandfather were here, he would be telling stories.

We would be able to go skiing if it were light out.

I would be rafting down a Class 4 right now if my leg weren’t broken .

Present Perfect Real Conditional Continuous

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Definition: Describes an unspecified time between before now and now, something that started and is either still continuing or recently finished. The speaker is interested in the process as well as the result, and this process may still be going on, or may have just finished.

Duration: Use a duration such as for five minutes, for three months, or since last Monday, etc.

Form:

[has / have + been] + -ing,
(the past action)
Using Stative Verbs
[has / have] + -ed
(the past action)

A.k.a., present perfect real progressive

I have been talking
you have been talking
s/he/it has been talking
we have been talking
they have been talking
I have talked
you have talked
s/he/it has talked
we have talked
they have talked
Actions That Started in the Past and Continue in the Present
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the has/have (auxiliary verb) + -ing (present participle)
  2. Purple indicates the past action
  3. Blue indicates the present situation

She has been waiting for you all day, and she’s still waiting now.

I‘ve been working on this report since eight o’clock this morning, and I still haven’t finished it.

They have been traveling since last October, and they’re not home yet.

Actions That Have Just Finished, But We Are Interested in the Results
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the has/have (auxiliary verb) + -ing (present participle)
  2. Blue indicates the past action
  3. Purple indicates the result

She has been cooking since last night, and the food on the table looks delicious.

It‘s been raining, and the streets are still wet.

Someone‘s been eating my chips, and half of them are gone.

Verbs Without Continuous Forms
Rule: Use the simple present perfect if using stative verbs.
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the auxiliary verb + simple present perfect

I‘ve wanted to visit China for years.

She‘s known Robert since she was a child.

I‘ve hated that music since I first heard it.

I‘ve heard a lot about you recently.

We‘ve understood everything.

We‘ve heard all about it.

PAST – REAL
Past Real Conditional

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Definition: Describes what you used to do in particular real-life situations. It suggests that your habits have changed, and you do not usually do these things today.

You can reverse the forms from condition/result to result/condition.

Uses if and when:

  • If suggests something that happened infrequently
  • Unless suggests something that happened regularly
  • Used to expresses the idea that something was an old habit that stopped in the past

Form:

[if / when] + simple past, + simple past
(the condition) (the result)
simple past + [if / when] + simple past
(the result) (the condition)

A.k.a., past progressive

If I talked + walked
If you talked + walked
If s/he/it talked + walked
If we talked + walked
If they talked + walked
Examples:
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the simple past
  2. Blue indicates the if / unless / when clause
  3. Italics indicate an explanation of the above sentence

If I went to a friend’s house for dinner, I usually took a bottle of wine or some flowers.

When I had a day off work, I often went to the beach.

If the weather was nice, Janis often walked to work.

Jerry always helped me with my homework when he had time.

I usually stayed at home when it rained .

When I traveled, I usually took half a dozen books.

When I traveled, I used to take half a dozen books.


If I took the bus to work, I usually read the paper.

If I took the bus to work, I used to read the paper.


If I had time, I studied English.

Sometimes I had time.


Unless I had the car, I rode the bus.

I took the bus if I didn’t have the car.

Used to…
Rule: Used to expresses the idea that something was an old habit that stopped in the past and emphasizes that something was a habit.
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the simple past
  2. White-on-Green indicates the used to + simple past
  3. Blue indicates the if/when clause

If I went to a friend’s house for dinner, I used to take a bottle of wine or some flowers.

When I had a day off work, I used to go to the beach.

If the weather was nice, she used to walk to work.

Past Real Conditional Continuous

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Definition: Emphasizes an interrupted action in the past:

  • A longer action in the past was interrupted
  • An interruption in time
  • Specific time as an interruption
  • Indicates that both actions were happening at the same time
  • A series of parallel actions describe the atmosphere at a particular time in the past
  • Expresses the negative idea that something irritating or shocking often happened in the past

CAUTION: Use this if you don’t include a duration such as for five minutes, for three months, or since last Monday, etc.

You can reverse the forms from condition/result to result/condition.

Form:

[was /were] + -ing, + simple past
(the condition) (the result)

A.k.a., past real progressive

I was talking + you listened
you were talking + he listened
s/he/it was talking + you listened
we were talking + you listened
they were talking + you listened
Examples:
Interrupted Action in the Past
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the was/were + -ing (present participle)
  2. Purple indicates the simple past

I was watching TV when she called.

When the phone rang, she was writing a letter.

While we were having the picnic, it started to rain.

What were you doing when the earthquake started?

I was listening to my iPod, so I didn’t hear the fire alarm.

Specific Time as an Interruption
Legend:

  1. Yellow indicates the time
  2. Green indicates the was/were + -ing (present participle)

Last night at 6 p.m., I was eating dinner.

At midnight, we were still driving through the desert.

Yesterday at this time, I was sitting at my desk at work.

Parallel Actions
Rule: When past continuous has two actions in the same sentence, it indicates that both actions were happening at the same time — parallel actions.
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the was/were + -ing (present participle)

I was studying while he was making dinner.

While Ellen was reading, Tim was watching television.

Were you listening while he was talking?

I wasn’t paying attention while I was writing the letter, so I made several mistakes.

What were you doing while you were waiting?

Thomas wasn’t working, and I wasn’t working either.

They were eating dinner, discussing their plans, and having a good time.

Atmosphere
Rule: Uses a series of parallel actions to describe the atmosphere at a particular time in the past.
Legend:

  1. Yellow indicates the time
  2. Green indicates the was/were + -ing (present participle)

When I walked into the office, several people were busily typing, some were talking on the phones, the boss was yelling directions, and customers were waiting to be helped. One customer was yelling at a secretary and waving his hands. Others were complaining to each other about the bad service.

Repetition and Irritation with Always
Rule: Always or constantly expresses the idea that something irritating or shocking often happened in the past. It’s a negative emotion and similar in concept to the expression used to.

Form:

[was /were] + [always / constantly] + -ing, + simple past
(the condition) (the result)
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the was/were + -ing (present participle)
  2. Purple indicates the simple past
  3. Orange indicates the always / constantly

She was always coming to class late.

He was constantly talking. He annoyed everyone.

I didn’t like them because they were always complaining.

Past Perfect Real Conditional Continuous

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Definition: Describes how long something had been going on before something important happened in the past.

Duration: Use a duration such as for five minutes, for three months, or since last Monday, etc.

Duration Before: Using this before another action in the past is a good way to show cause and effect

Form:

[had been] + -ing,
(the condition)
had + -ed,
(the condition)

A.k.a., past perfect real progressive

I had been talking
you had been talking
s/he/it had been talking
we had been talking
they had been talking
I had talked
you had talked
s/he/it had talked
we had talked
they had talked
Examples:
Legend:

  1. Yellow indicates duration
  2. Green indicates the had been + -ing/-ed

Jamie had been flying for over six hours when he touched down in San Diego.

Paul had been working for two hours when she telephoned.

You had been waiting there for more than two hours when she finally arrived.

Had you been waiting there for very long before she finally arrived?

You had not been waiting there for more than two hours when she finally arrived.

Duration Before Something in the Past
Legend:

  1. Yellow indicates duration
  2. Green indicates the had been + -ing/-ed
  3. Orange indicates cause

They had been talking for over an hour before Tony arrived.

She had been working at that company for three years when it went out of business.

How long had you been waiting to get on the bus?

Mike wanted to sit down because he had been standing all day at work.

James had been teaching at the university for more than a year before he left for Asia.

I had not been studying Latin very long.

Cause of Something in the Past
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the had been + -ing/-ed
  2. Orange indicates cause

Jason was tired because he had been jogging.

Sam gained weight because he had been overeating.

Betty failed the final test because she had not been attending class.

FUTURE – REAL
Future Real Conditional

(First Conditional)

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Definition: Describes a future event that could easily come true.

You can reverse the forms from condition/result to result/condition.

Rule: Uses if, unless, and when:

  • If suggests that you do not know if something will happen or not
  • Unless can be interpreted as if … not, and has a negative value used where the verb of the condition clause is also in the negative
  • When suggests that something will definitely happen at some point; we are simply waiting for it to occur.

You may want to explore the Some / Any rule as well.

Form 1:

[if / when] + simple present, + will + infinitive (simple future)
(the condition) (the result)
will + infinitive (simple future) + [if / when] + simple present
(the result) (the condition)

Form 2:

[if / when] + simple present, + [to be + going] + infinitive (simple future)
(the condition) (the result)
[to be + going] + infinitive (simple future) + [if / when] + simple present
(the result) (the condition)

Form 3:

[if / when / unless] + simple present, + [can / must] + infinitive
(the condition) (the result)
See the rule on conditional modal verbs.

Form 4:

[if / when / unless] + simple present, + were + infinitive
(the condition) (the result)

A.k.a., conditional real present, conditions of prediction, conditions of possibility, conditional I, first conditional, open if clause, type 1 conditional,

I walk + will talk
you walk + are going to go
s/he/it walk + is going to stay
we walk + will give
they walk + are going to read
Examples:
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the simple present
  2. Purple indicates the was were (see the was/were rule)
  3. White-on-Green indicates the simple future
  4. Blue indicates the if / unless / when clause (the condition)

If Helen calls, She must get home right now.

If you help me, I will be grateful.

If my mother knows about this, we will be in serious trouble.

If you come this way, the manager will see you now.

If you go, you must leave before 8.

I‘ll be back tomorrow unless there is a plane strike.

He‘ll accept the job unless the salary is too low.

We will be in serious trouble if my mother knows about this.

We will have to go without him if he is late.


You will learn where the will is located if I was to die.

You will learn where the will is located if I were to die.


If I win the lottery, I will buy a big house.

If I get promoted, I will throw a big party.

If my team wins the Cup, I‘ll buy champagne for everybody (Cengage Learning).

If I go to my friend’s house for dinner tonight, I will take a bottle of wine or some flowers.

I will take a bottle of wine or some flowers if I go to my friend’s house for dinner tonight.


If the weather is nice, Janis is going to walk to work.

Janis is going to walk to work if the weather is nice.


If there is nothing on TV, I am going to read.

I am going to read if there is nothing on TV.


When I have a day off work, I am going to go to the beach.

Jerry will help me with my homework when he has time.

I am going to read if there is nothing on TV.

If + [Some-s and Any-s]
Rule: After if, use:

  • some, someone, somewhere, etc., OR
  • any, anyone, anywhere, etc.
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the simple present
  2. White-on-Green indicates the simple future
  3. Purple indicates the some / any
  4. Blue indicates the if (conditional) clause

If I have some spare time next weekend, I‘ll help you in the garden.

If I have any spare time, I can fix that gutter.

Future Real Conditional Continuous

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Definition: Indicates that a longer action in the future — a real interruption or just an interruption in time — will be interrupted by a shorter action in the future:

  • Specific time can be an interruption
  • When future continuous is used with two actions in the same sentence, it expresses the idea that these two parallel actions will be happening at the same time
  • Describe atmosphere at a specific point in the future

There isn’t any real difference in meaning if you use will be or going to be, and the condition/result can swap positions.

CAUTION: There is no future in a time clause. Use present continuous with a time clause which will begin with after, as soon as, before, by the time, if, unless, when, while, etc.

Form:

[will be] + -ing,
(the condition)
[am/is/are + going to be] + -ing,
(the condition)

A.k.a., future real progressive

I will be talking
you will be talking
s/he/it will be talking
we will be talking
they will be talking
I am going to be talking
you are going to be talking
s/he/it is going to be talking
we are going to be talking
they are going to be talking
Examples:
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the future progressive

You will be waiting for her when her plane arrives tonight.

Will you be calling Maggie tonight?

Jon won’t be going to Florida next week.

You are going to be getting sleepy if you drink all that tonight.

Are you going to be writing your term paper tonight?

You are not going to be waiting for her to call you tonight, are you?

Interrupted Action in the Future
The interruptions are in simple present and not simple future because3 it is a time clause; future tenses cannot be used in time clauses.
Legend:

  1. Yellow indicates interruption in simple present
  2. Green indicates the will be/going to be + -ing (present participle)

I will be watching TV when she arrives tonight.

I will be waiting for you when your bus arrives.

I am going to be staying at the Madison Hotel, if anything happens and you need to contact me.

He will be studying at the library tonight, so he will not see Jennifer when she arrives.

Specific Time as an Interruption in the Future
Legend:

  1. Yellow indicates the specific time interruption
  2. Green indicates the will be/going to be + -ing (present participle)

Tonight at 6 p.m., I am going to be eating dinner.

At midnight tonight, we will still be driving through the desert.

Parallel Actions in the Future
Definition: Both actions are happening at the same time — in the future.
Legend:

  1. Yellow indicates a time clause
  2. Green indicates the will be/going to be + -ing (present participle)

I am going to be studying and he is going to be making dinner.

Tonight, they will be eating dinner, discussing their plans, and having a good time.

While Ellen is reading, Tim will be watching television.

Atmosphere in the Future
Definition: Future real continuous is used to describe the atmosphere; time is implied. Which also means that a time clause is involved.
Legend:

  1. Yellow indicates the time clause
  2. Green indicates the will be/going to be + -ing (present participle)

When I arrive at the party, everybody is going to be celebrating. Some will be dancing. Others are going to be talking. A few people will be eating pizza, and several people are going to be drinking beer. They always do the same thing.

Future Perfect Real Conditional Continuous

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Definition: Indicates that something will continue up until a particular event or time in the future; it’s also a good way to show cause and effect.

Duration: Use a duration such as for five minutes, for two weeks, and since Friday. While related to present perfect continuous and the past perfect continuous, the duration for future perfect continuous stops at or before a reference point in the future.

There isn’t any real difference in meaning if you use will have been or be going to have been, and the condition/result can swap positions.

CAUTION: There is no future in a time clause. Use present continuous with a time clause which will begin with after, as soon as, before, by the time, if, unless, when, while, etc.

Form:

[will have been] + -ing,
(the condition)
[be going to have been] + -ing,
(the condition)

A.k.a., future perfect real progressive

I will have been talking
you will have been talking
s/he/it will have been talking
we will have been talking
they will have been talking
I am going to have been talking
you are going to have been talking
s/he/it is going to have been talking
we are going to have been talking
they are going to have been talking
Duration Before Something in the Future
Definition: Describes an event that stops at or before a reference point (using simple present) in the future; time is implied, which means that a time clause is involved.
Legend:

  1. Yellow indicates the reference point
  2. Green indicates the will have been/be going to have been + -ing

They will have been talking for over an hour by the time Thomas arrives.

She is going to have been working at that company for three years when it finally closes.

James will have been teaching at the university for more than a year by the time he leaves for Asia.

How long will you have been studying when you graduate?

We are going to have been driving for over three days straight when we get to Anchorage.

When you finish your English course, will you have been living in New Zealand for over a year?

Cause/Effect of Something in the Future
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the will have been/be going to have been + -ing

Jason will be tired when he gets home because he will have been jogging for over an hour.

Claudia’s English will be perfect when she returns to Germany because she is going to have been studying English in the United States for over two years.

Unreal Conditional
Definition: This is not a tense, but a way of using progressive (continuous) verb tenses to write sentences about imaginary situations in the present, past, and future. It implies that the speaker does not think that the condition will be / is / has been fulfilled, and therefore the main clause is either in doubt or untrue.

A.k.a., rejected condition, hypothetical condition, counterfactual condition, hypothetical statement

Present Unreal Conditional
(Second Conditional)

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Definition: Describes two different situations that talk about impossible situations:

  1. A particular imaginary condition, fantasy, or dream in the future is much more unlikely to happen
  2. Something in the present is impossible because it’s not true or is hypothetical

A.k.a., simple conditional, conditional progressive

The if (conditional) clause may be implied.

Rule: Present tense, although it’s also future tense. Except, that we are talking about the present, now.

Rule: Only uses:

  • if
  • were, never use was

There are also rules on the Subjunctive Mood and using some or any in an if clause.

Form:

if + simple past, + would + infinitive
(the condition) (the result)
would + infinitive + if + simple past
(the result) (the condition)

A.k.a., present unreal, present contrary-to-fact, second conditional, conditional unreal present, conditions of speculation about present or future time, conditional II

I talked + would
you talked + would
s/he/it talked + would
we talked + would
they talked + would
Examples:
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the simple past
  2. Purple indicates the was were (see the was/were rule; it’s also simple past)
  3. White-on-Green indicates the would + infinitive
  4. Blue indicates the imaginary situation
  5. Italics indicate an explanation of the above sentence

If I owned a car, I would drive to work.

If they worked harder, they would earn more money.

If you moved to the U.S., where would you live?

If he were French, he would live in Paris.

If she were rich, she would buy a yacht.

She would travel around the world if she had more money.

Mary would move to Japan if she spoke Japanese.

What would you do if you won the lottery?

I would play basketball if I were taller.

I would buy that computer if it were cheaper.

I would take a trip to India if it were affordable.

I can’t afford it.


If I were rich, I would travel the world.

I don’t have the money.

Conditional with Modal Verbs
Rule: Would cannot be used with certain modal verbs as they already include a conditional implication — can, may, ought to, or shall — so the two forms are combined for all but ought to.
  • would + can = could
  • would + may = might
  • would + shall = should
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the simple past
  2. White-on-Green indicates the could / might / should + infinitive
  3. Blue indicates the imaginary situation

If I went to Egypt, I could learn Arabic.

If she had time, she might go to the party.

If I had more time, I could exercise after work.

If he invited you, you really should go.

Subjunctive Mood
Rule: Describes a two-part situation that discusses speculative conditions about the present and future using were instead of was, creating a subjunctive mood (Cengage Learning).

The form, if I were you, is frequently used as a prelude to giving advice.

Legend:

  1. Green indicates the future used in the result
  2. Blue indicates the if subjunctive present clause
  3. Purple indicates the was were (see the was/were rule)

If I was a rich man, you would love me.

If I were a rich man, you would love me.

If I were you, I would move to Australia.

If I were an Alaskan, I would probably choose to live in Florida.

If my aunt were sixty-five, she could get a discount air fare.

If I were you, I wouldn’t go out with that man.

If I were you, I would look for a new place to live.

If + [Some-s and Any-s]
Rule: After if, use:

  • some, someone, somewhere, etc., OR
  • any, anyone, anywhere, etc.
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the simple past
  2. White-on-Green indicates the future
  3. Purple indicates the some / any
  4. Blue indicates the if clause

If I have some spare time next weekend, I‘ll help you in the garden.

If I have any spare time, I can fix that gutter.

Present Unreal Continuous

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Definition: Expresses an unfinished or continuing action or situation, which is the probable result of an unreal condition.

Form:

if + simple past, + [would be] + -ing
(the condition) (the result)

A.k.a., present unreal progressive

I was + should be talking
you were + could be talking
s/he/it was + might be talking
we were + would be talking
they were + shouldn’t be talking
Examples:
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the simple past
  2. Blue indicates the if clause (the condition)
  3. White-on-Green indicates the would be + -ing (present participle; the result)

If it was after 10, I should be sewing by then.

If Helen were in Italy, she would be writing her Italian section.

You wouldn’t be smiling if you knew the truth.

Present Perfect Unreal Continuous

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Definition: Describes an unspecified time between before now and now, something that started but has not finished in that period of time, nor is it likely to have happened. It could be a fantasy or dream.

Form:

[has / have + been] + -ing,
(the past action) (the present situation)
Using Stative Verbs
[has / have] + -ed
(the past action)

A.k.a., present perfect unreal progressive

I have been talking
you have been talking
s/he/it has been talking
we have been talking
they have been talking
I have talked
you have talked
s/he/it has talked
we have talked
they have talked
Actions That Started in the Past and Continue in the Present
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the [has / have] + -ing (present participle)
  2. Blue indicates the past action
  3. Purple indicates the present situation

She has been waiting for you all day, and she’s still waiting now.

I‘ve been working on this report since eight o’clock this morning, and I still haven’t finished it.

They have been traveling since last October, and they’re not home yet.

Actions That Have Just Finished, But We Are Interested in the Results
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the has/have (auxiliary verb) + -ing (present participle)
  2. Blue indicates the past action
  3. Purple indicates the result

She has been cooking since last night, and the food on the table looks delicious.

It‘s been raining, and the streets are still wet.

Someone‘s been eating my chips, and half of them are gone.

PAST – UNREAL
Past Unreal Conditional

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Definition: Describes a two-part situation that could have happened in the past, but didn’t.

Rule: Only uses if.

Form 1:

if + past perfect, + [would + have] + -ed
(the condition) (the result)

There are three more forms, each with its own rule; see Spoken, Informal Form 4 and Form 5 for their rules on the result clause when it uses would, could, might, ought to, or should (see Conditional Modal Verbs).

A.k.a., third conditional, type 3 conditional, conditional not possible present, conditions of speculation about the past, conditional III, unfulfilled hypothesis statement clause

I had talked + would have walked
you had talked + would have walked
s/he/it had talked + would have walked
we had talked + would have walked
they had talked + would have walked
Examples:
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the past perfect
  2. White-on-Green indicates the would/could/might + -ed (past participle; see conditional modal verbs)
  3. Purple indicates the subject
  4. Blue indicates the if clause
  5. Italics indicate an explanation of the above sentence

If you had warned me, I would not have told your father about that party.

If I had won the lottery, I‘d have been in the Riviera now.

If she had studied, she would have passed.

If we had taken the taxi, we wouldn’t have missed the plane.

If she had concentrated on one media, she would have succeeded.


If you had eaten too much, you‘d have got fatter.

You‘d have got fatter if you‘d eaten too much.


If everyone had worked fast, we‘d have finished in time.

But we didn’t.


We wouldn’t have finished in time unless everyone had worked fast.

But we did.


If I had gone to London, I could have visited the British Museum.

But I didn’t.


If you had visited Scotland, you could have visited Edinburgh Castle.

But you didn’t.


Unless we‘d been very confident of success, we wouldn’t have even tried.

But we were confident, we did try, and we succeeded.

Form 2: Omitting the If

Rule: Implies the if.

auxiliary verb + subject, + [would + have] + -ed
(the condition) (the result)
Had I known, I‘d never have gone there.

Implies: I did go there because I did not know.

If I had known, I’d never have gone there.

Form 3:

Rule: When describing a condition that speculates about the past in relation to the effect on the present, some blending of conditional meaning and tenses can occur (Cengage Learning).

if + past perfect, + would + simple present (see present unreal conditional)
(the condition) (the result)
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the past perfect
  2. White-on-Green indicates the would + simple present
  3. Blue indicates the if clause

If I had bought a new car instead of this old wreck, I would feel a lot safer today.

Spoken, Informal Form 4:

Rule: Spoken and informal English frequently uses would in the conditional clause, even though, technically, would should only be used in the if clause (Cengage Learning).

if + would + simple present / simple past], + [could / would / should / might] + [any tense]
(the condition) (the result)
Legend:

  1. Green-on-White indicates the informal use of would
  2. White-on-Green indicates the traditional modal use
  3. Blue indicates the if clause
  4. Gray indicates the properly written conditional

If the fish fry committee would show more initiative, people might attend their events more regularly.

If the fish fry committee showed more initiative, people might attend their events more regularly.

If I would have heard him say that, I would have been angry.

If I had heard him say that, I would have been angry.

Form 5:

Rule: Describes a situation that is contrary to fact with the conditional clause understood. It uses would / could / might in the result clause when no conditional clause is present (Cengage Learning).

Legend:

  1. Green indicates the past perfect
  2. White-on-Green indicates the would have + -ed (past participle)
  3. Blue indicates the imaginary situation

If I had owned a car, I would have driven to work.

If she had more money, she would have traveled around the world.

If Jack had worked harder, he would have earned more money.

If Mary had studied Japanese, she would have gotten the job in Japan.

I would have driven to work if I had owned a car.

She would have traveled around the world if she had more money.

Jack would have earned more money if he had worked harder.

Mary would have gotten the job in Japan if she had studied Japanese.

Conditional with Modal Verbs
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the past perfect
  2. White-on-Green indicates the could/might/should have + -ed (past participle; see conditional modal verbs)
  3. Blue indicates the imaginary situation
  4. Italics indicate an explanation of the above sentence

If I had gone to Egypt, I could have learned Arabic.

If she had had time, she might have gone to the party.
If I had had time, I would have studied English.

I didn’t have time.

Past Unreal Continuous

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Definition: It describes imaginary situations happening at a very specific time in the past or over a period of time in the past, including:

  1. Describes imaginary situations to emphasize interruptions or parallel actions in the past
  2. Emphasizes a duration of time in imaginary situations and used like present perfect unreal continuous or past perfect unreal continuous

Form:

if + [had been] + -ing, + [would have been] + -ing
(the condition) (the result)
I would have been talking
you would have been talking
s/he/it would have been talking
we would have been talking
they would have been talking
Examples:
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the had been + -ing (present participle)
  2. White-on-Green indicates the would have been + -ing
  3. Blue indicates the imaginary situation
  4. Italics indicate an explanation of the above sentence

If I had been talking to him when he said that, I would have been punching him in the face.

But I wasn’t talking to him when he said that.


If he had been writing that book all that time, he would have been publishing it by now.

If he had been studying the language that long, I think he would have been interpreting for us at the airport.

If you had gone to his house last night, he would have been sitting on his couch in front of the TV.

But you didn’t go to his house, so you didn’t see what he was doing.


If she had missed her train, he would have been waiting for her at the station for hours.

Luckily, she caught her train and he didn’t have to wait.

Emphasizes Interruptions, Parallel Actions
If James had been crossing the street when the car ran the red light, it would have hit him.

If Tom had been studying while Becky was making dinner, he would have finished his homework early and they could have gone to the movie.

If James hadn’t stopped to tie his shoe, he would have been crossing the street when the car ran the red light.

If you had gone to their house last night, Bob would have been reading the newspaper, Nancy would have been talking on the phone, and the kids would have been watching TV.

If he had been standing near the house when the wall collapsed, it would have killed him.

Luckily, he moved away before the wall fell.

Emphasizes a Duration of Time
Scott said he had been studying Greek for more than five years. If he had been studying the language that long, I think he would have been able to interpret for us at the airport.

Sarah claimed she had been waiting in the rain for more than twenty minutes by the time we arrived, but she wasn’t even wet. If she had been waiting that long, I think she would have been totally drenched by the time we arrived.

Terry’s plane arrived ahead of schedule. If I hadn’t decided to go to the airport early, she would have been waiting there for more than twenty minutes before I arrived.

At the travel agency yesterday, I waited for more than an hour for somebody to help me. Finally, I got up and left. If I hadn’t decided to leave, I would have been sitting there forever.

Past Perfect Unreal Conditional

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Definition: Combines the conditional mood with perfect aspect and describes something that might have happened in the past but did not.

Mostly used in third conditional and sometimes mixed conditional sentences.

You can reverse the forms from condition/result to result/condition.

Form:

simple past / past perfect, + [would have] + -ed
(the condition) (the result)

A.k.a., conditional perfect

I had talked + would have listened
you had talked + would have listened
s/he/it had talked + would have listened
we had talked + would have listened
they had talked + would have listened
Examples:
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the was were (see the was/were rule; it’s also simple past)
  2. White-on-Green indicates the past perfect
  3. Purple indicates the would have + -ed
  4. Blue indicates the imaginary situation
  5. Italics indicate an explanation of the above sentence

I would have cooked dinner if you had come home.

You would have gotten farther if you had studied harder.

If we had decided sooner, we would have married earlier.

If I were a woman, I still would have participated in the pissing contest.

FUTURE – UNREAL
Future Unreal Conditional

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Definition: Talks about imaginary situations in the future to emphasize that the conditional form is in the future rather than the present.

This form can be used in the if clause, the result, or in both parts of the sentence.

Use it when:

  1. A speaker needs to emphasize that something is impossible
  2. In cases of reported speech
  3. Sometimes the if can be omitted if the condition and result are reversed [Form 4]

This looks the same as Present Unreal Conditional.

A.k.a., open hypothetical conditional statement

I walked + would talk
you walked + would talk
s/he/it walked + would talk
we walked + would talk
they walked + would talk
Form 1:

if + simple past, + would + infinitive
(the condition) (the result)
would + infinitive + if + simple past
(the result) (the condition)
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the simple past
  2. White-on-Green indicates the would + infinitive
  3. Blue indicates the imaginary situation
  4. Italics indicate an explanation of the above sentence

If I went to my friend’s house for dinner tonight, I would take a bottle of wine or some flowers.

If I had time, I would come to your party.

I can’t come.


If Jerry didn’t have to work, he would help me with my homework tomorrow.

Form 2:

if + [were + -ing], + [would be] + -ing
(the condition) (the result)
[would be] + -ing + if + [were + -ing]
(the result) (the condition)
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the were + -ing (present participle)
  2. White-on-Green indicates the would be + -ing
  3. Blue indicates the imaginary situation
  4. Italics explain the sentence above it

If I were going to Fiji next week, I would be taking my scuba diving gear.

I am not going to Fiji next week, so I won’t be taking my diving gear with me.


If I were not visiting my grandmother tomorrow, I would be helping you study.

If I had time, I would be coming to your party.

Form 3:

if + [were going to] + infinitive, + [would be] + -ing
(the condition) (the result)
[would be] + -ing + if + [were going to] + infinitive
(the result) (the condition)
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the were going to + infinitive
  2. White-on-Green indicates the would be + -ing (present participle)
  3. Blue indicates the imaginary situation
  4. Italics indicate an explanation of the above sentence

If I were going to go to Fiji next week, I would be taking my scuba diving gear with me.

I am not going to Fiji next week, so I won’t be taking my diving gear with me.


If I were not going to visit my grandmother tomorrow, I would be helping you study.

I would be helping you study if I were not going to visit my grandmother tomorrow.


If I had time, I would study English.

I won’t have time.

Form 4

Rule: Omitting the if.

[be / do / have (auxiliary verb)] + subject, + [would have] + -ed
(the condition) (the result)
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the simple past
  2. White-on-Green indicates the [would/could/might/should] + infinitive (see conditional modal verbs)
  3. Blue indicates the imaginary situation
  4. Italics indicate an explanation of the above sentence

Were the virus to reappear, hospitals would now be ready for it.

If the virus reappeared, hospitals would now be ready for it.

or

If the virus were to reappear, hospitals would now be ready for it.

Conditional with Modal Verbs
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the simple past
  2. White-on-Green indicates the [would/could/might/should] + infinitive (see conditional modal verbs)
  3. Blue indicates the imaginary situation

If I went to Egypt next year, I could learn Arabic.

If I didn’t have to work tonight, I could go to the fitness center.

Reported Speech
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the simple past
  2. White-on-Green indicates the [would/could/might/should] + infinitive (see conditional modal verbs)
  3. Blue indicates the imaginary situation

My professor told me I‘d do much better if I worked harder.

The magistrate informed him that he‘d go to prison unless he stopped stealing.

The newspaper reported that unless the directors could increase sales, they‘d have to close the shop.

Future Unreal Continuous

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Definition: While it looks the same as the present unreal continuous conditional, the future is indicated with words such as tomorrow, next week, in a couple of days, etc., and includes:

  1. Describes imaginary situations to emphasize interruptions or parallel actions in the past
  2. Emphasizes a duration of time in imaginary situations and used like present perfect unreal continuous or past perfect unreal continuous

Form:

if + [were + -ing], + [would be] + -ing
(the condition) (the result)
If I were talking + would be listening
If you were talking + would be listening
If s/he/it were talking + would be listening
If we were talking + would be listening
If they were talking + would be listening
Examples:
Legend:

  1. Yellow indicates the duration
  2. Green indicates the were + present participle
  3. White-on-Green indicates the would be + present participle
  4. Blue indicates the imaginary situation
  5. Italics indicate an explanation of the above sentence

If I were going to the train station tonight to meet Sandra, I would be standing on the platform waiting for her when she arrives.

If he were staying in that hotel next week while the conference is being held, he would be meeting some of the key speakers and telling them about our new product.

If I were waiting there next week when he gets off the plane, he would be totally surprised.

But I will not be waiting there, so he won’t be surprised.


If he were staying in that hotel next week while the conference is being held, he might be able to meet some of the key speakers and tell them about our new product.

I don’t think he will be able to stay at the hotel, so he won’t be able to meet anybody there.


If I were able to go to the train station tonight to meet Sandra, I would be standing on the platform waiting for her when she arrives.

I won’t be able to go to the train station, so I will not be standing there when she arrives.


If you went over to Paul’s house after work, he would probably be sitting there at his computer surfing the Internet.

But you won’t go over.

Future Perfect Unreal Conditional Continuous

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General Definition: Describes impossible or imaginary events or actions that would happen in the future, if they were possible. But they’re not; the event is hypothetical.

The conditional and result can be switched without it affecting the meaning.

Form:

[was / were] + -ing, + would + base form
(the condition) (the result)
simple past, + would + base form
(the condition) (the result)

A.k.a., future perfect unreal progressive

If I were talking…, you would listen
If you were talking…, I would listen
If s/he/it was talking…, you would listen
If we were talking…, you would listen
If they were talking…, you would listen
If I were…, you would listen
If you were…, you would listen
If s/he/it was…, you would listen
If we were…, you would listen
If they were…, you would listen
Examples:
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the simple past
  2. Purple indicates the was/were + -ing (see the was/were rule)
  3. Blue indicates the if clause (the condition)
  4. White-on-Green indicates the would + base form

If I were going to Fiji, I would be taking my dog.

I would bake if I were any good at it.

If I had time, I would be dancing.

If I had time, I would dance.

MIXED CONDITIONALS
Mixed Conditional

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Definition: Mixed Conditionals are unreal and the time in the if clause is not the same as the time in the result.

The possible combinations include:

  • Past circumstance that is conditional on a not specifically past circumstance, OR
  • Not specifically past circumstance that is conditional past circumstance
  • When the condition refers to the past, but the consequence is to the present,
    the condition clause is in the past perfect, while the result clause is in the conditional mood as in the second conditional, but not conditional perfect.

A combination of unreal conditional sentences whose time in the if clause is different than the time in the main clause (English Tenses).

Form:

if + [had been] + -ing, + past perfect
(the condition) (the result)
if + [had been] + -ed, + past perfect
(the condition) (the result)
Examples:
Unreal Conditionals:
Present and Past
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the verb tense in the if clause
  2. Purple indicates the was were (see the was/were rule)
  3. White-on-Green indicates the would + infinitive
  4. Blue indicates the if clause

If I were smarter, I would have graduated from Stanford.

If Mary weren’t a snob, she wouldn’t have had so many parties this year.

Unreal Conditionals:
Present and Future
If you were more eloquent, you would become a politician.

If you had more time, I would go to the cinema with you.

Unreal Conditionals:
Past and Present Combined
If my father hadn’t lost his keys, we wouldn’t have to wait until he finds them.

If I had set up a backup drive, I would be able to restore all my files.

If you had done your job properly, we wouldn’t be in this mess now.

If I hadn’t married Kelly, I wouldn’t be living in Scotland now.

Unreal Conditionals:
Past and Future
If our house had been broken into, we would call the police.

If we had won the lottery last week, we would buy a new Ferrari today.

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