Grammar-QuizzesConnectorsConnective PrepositionsConditional › Real / Unreal Conditional

Real / Unreal Conditional (Modal Use)

Express whether something is likely or unlikely to occur

 

 

 
REAL—TRUE

In a real conditional construction, the main clause states a particular action or situation that depends on whether the action or situation in the if-phrase happens first.  The condition (the if-phrase) expresses an activity that is likely to occur. Circumstances are favorable for it to happen. A present real conditional includes present tense in the if-phrase with a future modal in the main clause. A past real conditional includes past in both the if-phrase and the main clause. For routine situations see If / When.

IF-PHRASE (1ST) MAIN CLAUSE  (2ND)
LIKELY CONDITION PRESENT / FUTURE 

If he has time today,

(present tense form)

Jack will mow¹ the grass.
— He doesn't know if he will have time yet.

  PAST

If he had time yesterday,

(past tense form)

Jack mowed the grass.
— He did or didn't do it depending on that particular condition.

UNREAL—UNTRUE / HYPOTHETICAL

In an unreal conditional construction, the main clause states an imaginary action based on an unlikely condition or situation. The condition (the if-phrase) expresses that the activity is unlikely to occur. Circumstances are not favorable for the action to happen. The preterit ("irrealis") verb form conveys a meaning: "We are imagining this situation.  It is purely hypothetical." In this case, the preterit does not express past tense.  However,  the past perfect verb form with had does.                               

IF-PHRASE (1ST) MAIN CLAUSE  (2ND)
UNLIKELY CONDITION PRESENT / FUTURE 

If he had time,

(present "irrealis" form)

Ted would mow the grass.
He doesn't have time. The grass will not get mowed.

  PAST

If he had had time,

(past "irrealis" form)

Ted would have mowed the grass.
He didn't have time. The grass didn't get mowed.

 

¹will, can, may, might, should, etc. (future timing) 

 

In Context

Jack – mowingWhen Jack came home Friday evening from work, he noticed his lawn was overgrown and needed some work. Since he works five days a week as an electrician, he has his weekends free to do as he pleases. He likes to spend his time with friends. He also likes to keep his yard looking good. He will mow the lawn if he has time. 

Ted – restingWhen Ted came home Friday evening from work, he also noticed that his lawn was overgrown and needed work. Since he works six days a week as a healthcare worker, he has almost no free time and is usually exhausted on weekends. This weekend is his only opportunity to rest. He would mow the lawn if he had time. 

exhausted (Adj) – extremely tired

lawn (N) – an area of maintained, cut grass

likely (Adj) – probable, possible to happen

mow (V) –cut with a grass with garden equipment (A lawn is the area of cut grass.)referee (V) – someone who makes sure that the rules of a sport such as football, basketball, or boxing, are followed correctly

overgrown (Participial Adj) – the blades of grass are too long, not neat

 

 

 

irrealis (grammatical mood) – a certain situation or action is not known to have happened as the speaker is talking.

if — heads a connective prepositional phrase that takes a clause (and a few other word forms) as its complement. The condition "clause" is actually a prepositional phrase (PP). Call me if you are ready. (Cls) Call me if ready. (Adj)

Also see If / When (conditional vs. cause-effect). If / Whenever he had time, he mowed the lawn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Modals in the Main Clause

Express opinion about the second action

 

 

 

Will / Would, May / Might, Can / Could

REAL

In a real (true) conditional structure, modals will, may, might, and could express opinion regarding the probability of the second action occurring after the first action (the condition) occurs.                                                                                                                                                                                  

PRESENT RESULTING ACTION & OPINION

If he has time,

Jack will mow the grass.

Jack may mow the grass.

Jack might mow the grass.

Jack could mow the grass.

PAST RESULTING ACTION & OPINION

If he had time,

Jack mowed the grass.

Jack would mow the grass.

Jack could mow the grass.

 

UNREAL

In an unreal (untrue) conditional structure, modals will have, may have, might have, or could have can be used to express opinion about the hypothetical action (that will not actually take place because the condition will not happen.)

PRESENT HYPOTHETICAL ACTION

If he had time,

 

Ted would  mow the grass. (sure)

Ted could  mow the grass. (able)

Ted might  mow the grass. (unsure)

 

PAST HYPOTHETICAL ACTION

If he had had time,

Ted would  have mowed the grass.

Ted could  have mowed the grass.

Ted might  have mowed the grass.

 

See Degrees of Certainty. 

likelihood – probability, favorability

will – sure, certain

 

 

 

 

 

Modals in the Condition Clause

Express opinion about the condition

 

 

 

Modals with Real & Unreal

REAL

Can, could, may, might express the probability of the condition happening. (The condition must occur before the other activity in the main clause can occur.)

LIKELY CONDITION PRES & FUTURE – RESULT CLAUSE

If he has vacation time,

Jack will take the day off.  

*If he will have vacation time,

 

If he can get some time off,
— sometimes he is able to.

 

If he may do so,
— sometimes he is permitted to.

 

  PAST – RESULT CLAUSE

If he had vacation time,

Jack took the day off.  

*If he would have vacation time,

 

If he could get some time off,
— sometimes he was able to.

 

If he might do so,
— sometimes he was permitted to.

 

UNREAL

Could, could have, might or might have express unlikely possibility for the condition to be real (true). Thus, the second action in the main clause will not occur.

UNLIKELY CONDITION PRES & FUTURE – RESULT CLAUSE

If he had time today,

Jack would mow the grass. 

*If he would have time.

 

If he could have time.
— he's not able to.

 

If he might have time.
— he's not permitted to.

 

  PAST – RESULT CLAUSE

If he had had time,

Jack would have mowed the grass.  

*If he would have had time,

 

If he could have had more time,
— he wasn't able to.

 

If he might have had time,
— he was not permitted to.

 

 

likelihood – probability, favorability

will – sure, certain

may, might, could – probable

*not used

 

 

 

 

 

 

Common Mistakes

Errors and Solutions

 

 

 

Error and Solution

ERROR

I would do my homework if I would have more time.

(Not incorrect, but uncommonly used.)

I would have finished the test if I would have had a little more time.

SOLUTION

I would do my homework if I had more time.

I would have done my homework if I had had time.

(Although would have is a past form of would, it is uncommonly used in the condition part of the structure .)  

I would have finished the test if I had had more time. (I didn't.

I would have finished the test if they might have given us more time. (Might have can be used to politely state a critique or review that is negative. "no permission")

I would have finished the test if I could have found another pencil. (Could have adds information about an unavailable item, "no ability")

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

► Show Grammar Notes and Resources? ▼ Hide Grammar Notes

Grammar Notes (Advanced)

Traditional Grammar and Linguistic Description

 

 

Traditional and Linguistic Descriptions

TRADITIONAL GRAMMAR

In traditional grammar, a sentence with a conditional clause with a true situation  is a real conditional, and an untrue situation is an unreal condition, a hypothetical condition or an imaginary present, past or future.

An if clause refers to a condition — something which must happen so that something else can happen.   (Swan 257)
if   conjunction  "We use special structures with if when we are talking about unreal situations — things that will probably not happen, situations that are untrue or imaginary… We use past tenses and would to 'distance' our language from reality." (Swan 258)

If-clauses "also called adverb clauses present possible conditions. The main clause expresses result." (Azar 17-6, 20-2)

REED-KELLOGG DIAGRAM 

We take an umbrella if it is raining.

LINGUISTIC DESCRIPTION

Conditional construction: if + content clause—protasis; matrix (main) clause— apodosis (Huddleston 8 §14)

if  — preposition that takes a content clause as its subordinate complement.  PP [P + finite clause]

open: If you come on Sunday, we'll have dinner together.
open: If you came on Sundays, you always had dinner with them.

remote: if you came tonight, we would have dinner together.  (preterit, irrealis)
remote: if you had come tonight, we would have had dinner together.  (past preterit, irrealis)

If I was / were…  preterit verb form. Irrealis (Huddleston 3 §1.7)    

TREE DIAGRAM

We take an umbrella if it is raining.     

 

Categories:  NP –noun phrase; N – noun; VP – verb phrase; V – verb; Detdeterminer; PP – prepositional phrase; P – preposition; AdvP – adverb phrase; Adv – adverb; AdjP– adjective phrase; Adj – adjective; Subord – Subordinator;  Coord – Coordinator; Interj – Interjection

Functions: Subject:  Subject,   Predicate: Predicator (V) Complement:  elements required by the verb: object, indirect object, predicative complement  Adjuncts: (optional modifiers) Adj,  Adv

 

Resources

  • Azar, Betty Schrampfer, and Stacy A. Hagen. Understanding and Using English Grammar. 4th ed., Pearson Education, 2009.
  • Biber, Douglas, and Stig Johansson, et al. Longman Grammar Of Spoken And Written English. Pearson Education, 1999.
  • Huddleston, Rodney D., and Geoffrey K. Pullum. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge UP, 2002.
  • O'Brien, Elizabeth. "Diagramming Sentences Exercises: Chapter 1." English Grammar Revolution. 2016. english-grammar-revolution.com/english-grammar-exercise.html. Accessed on 10 Oct. 2016.
  • Swan, Michael. Practical English Usage. 3rd ed., Oxford UP, 2005.
  • "Sentence diagram." Wikipedia. 28 Sep. 2016. Accessed on 10 Oct. 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 1

Real or Unreal

 

 

 

Read the paragraph above about Jack and Ted.

Is the situation likely to happen (real) or unlikely to happen.  likely — probably will happen, probably is true.   unlikely — probably won't happen, probably isn't true.

  1. Select the response from the list that best completes the sentence. 
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "check" or "check 1-10" button.

 

1.
Jack likes the way his lawn looks if he mows it weekly.
       

2.
Ted would like the way his lawn looked if he mowed it more often.
   

3.
Ted would prefer to work shorter hours if he could.
   

4.
Jack would probably feel like Ted if he had to work six days a week.
   

5.
If Jack referees a Little League game on Saturday, he can mow his lawn on Sunday instead.
   

6.
If Ted has a three-day weekend, he mows his lawn.
   

7.
Jack would also like to rest in a hammock if he had a hammock.
   

8.
If Ted had a power lawn mower like Jack, maybe he would enjoy mowing his lawn.
   

9.
Jack would loan Ted his lawn mower if he asked.
   

10.
Jack could loan his lawn mower to Ted if Ted would loan Jack his hammock.
   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 2

Real or Imagined

Aiden
 

 

Read

Aiden bikes to school.  It takes him fifteen minutes to get there. He doesn't bike when it rains. He walks instead. Then it takes him thirty minutes. He doesn't like to walk because his books are heavy, but sometimes he can't help it.

Aiden's friend drives.  Aiden can call him and ask his friend for a ride.  However, he must call him the night before.  Sometimes, it rains unexpectedly in the morning. So Aiden walks in the rain. Fortunately, Aiden has a good umbrella and Aiden likes to walk.

can't help – cannot avoid

forecast – predict something, especially weather

get to school – travel to school

in time – within the time, not from the beginning, but still able to do the activity

on time – at the beginning set time of an activity

 

 

 

Read the conditional sentence and answer the question.

likely — probably will happen, probably is true.   unlikely — probably won't happen, probably isn't true.

  1. Select the response from the list that best completes the sentence. 
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "check" or "check 11-16" button.

 

11.
If the weather is favorable, Aiden bikes to school.
Does Aiden bike to school?
       

12.
If it's going to rain, Aiden walks.
Is Aiden going to walk?
                     

13.
This morning it suddenly started raining.  If Aiden called his friend, it would be too late to get a ride.
Is Aiden going to call his friend?
                     

14.
If Aiden had started walking earlier, he would get to school on time this morning.
Did Aiden begin walking early?
        

15.
Aiden will make it in time to class if he walks fast.
Will Aiden walk fast?
        

16.
If Aiden had checked the weather forecast the night before, he wouldn't be walking in the rain now.
Did Aiden check the weather forecast?