Sunday, May 1, 2011

Conditional sentences

A conditional sentence is a type of subordinate clause that states a hypothesis or condition that can be real or imagined. They are usually introduced by the conjunction if, but there are other possibilities, like unless, providing, as long as, in case (of), etc.
Wordle: if
Created with Wordle

There are four different types of conditional sentences, but some linguists consider that they can be reduced to three, since types 0 and 1 are very similar. Have a look at this table:

If clause Main clause
Present simple Present simple
Present simple Future

Past simple Conditional

Past perfect Perfect conditional

would/could/might+have+past participle

As you can see, in both types, 0 and 1, the subordinate clause or “if clause” has the same tense: the present simple. That's why, some grammarians consider that they are just two varieties of the same group.

In the following presentation there is a complete explanation and some examples of the different types.

When we use the verb to be in type 2 conditionals, we should use the form were for all the persons. This is so because in these sentences we have to use the subjunctive mode, which normally has the same forms as the indicative mode except for the verb to be. Therefore, this is the only verb in which we realize that the subjunctive is being used. However, many speakers tend to avoid the use of the subjunctive, which is considered very formal.
If I were rich, I would buy a Ferrari. (more formal)
If I was rich... (more colloquial)
Image: 'Ferrari F50'

Nevertheless, were is always preferred in the expression If I were you...

There are many songs in which you can find examples of conditionals, but today we will listen to BeyoncĂ© singing “If I were a boy”. Note the use of the contracted form of would ('d)

And now some exercises to check what you have learnt today.
Type 1 conditional
Types 1 and 2 conditionals
Type 3 conditional
Mixed types

Acknowledment: I'm very grateful to Nuria Ortiz for her wonderful exercises!

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