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Real Conditionals

One situation must occur first before the other situation can happen

a hurricane moving toward land
 

 

Present/Future vs. Past Real Conditional Statements

PRESENT / FUTURE

A present/future real conditional statement expresses that a particular action will happen only after another action (the condition) happens first. This is for a single occurence not multiple (as with a routine). The main clause takes the future tense (modal + verb), and the condition takes the present tense.

PRESENT CONDITION ACTION

If the hurricane comes ashore this evening,

it will destroy buildings, trees and shorelines. 

If we want to stay safe,

we will evacuate and move inland.

If we see an open gas station,

we will fill up with gas. 

If we are lucky tonight,

the storm will weaken before coming ashore.

PAST

A past real conditional statement expresses that a particular action happened only after another action happened first. This is for a single occurence not multiple (i.e., a past habit, a routine). The main clause includes past, and the condition includes the past tense (preterit).

PAST CONDITION ACTION

If the storm came ashore yesterday,

it destroyed everything in its path. 

If our neighbors were smart,

they evaculated  and moved inland.

If drivers found open gas stations,

they filled up with gas. 

If people in the southern areas were lucky last night,

the storm weakened before coming ashore. 

 

ashore (N) – movement from a body of water and onto land

evacuate (V) – leave an unsafe area and go to a safe area

inland (N) – land area that is away from the sea or ocean, usually higher in elevation

shelter (N) –a safe public building that takes people in during a disaster

weaken (V) – become less strong

if — heads an adjunct prepositional phrase that takes a clause (and a few other word forms) as its complement. The conditional "clause" is actually a prepositional phrase (PP). Call me if you are ready. Call me if necessary. I rarely, if ever, call them.  See Grammar Notes (present conditional) for terms.

See Would / Used to  (would vs. used to).

 

 

 

 

"If" Condition or Cause-Effect?

Express single vs. multiple occurences

bee collecting pollen/man spraying trees
 

 

 "If" conditional (single occurence) vs. "if" cause-effect (multiple occurences)

IF—CONDITIONAL

In a present/future conditional statement, an if phrase expresses a single occurrence of a situation that is required for the acitivity in the main clause to occur.  (If X, then Y) The speaker is uncertain whether the activity in the if phrase will occur or not. The simple present tense is used in the clause after if, and a modal (will, can, may, might, shall) is used in the main clause. The meaning is  "Under the condition that X occurs, Y will happen."           

CONDITION EFFECT
IF  SINGLE SITUATION PREDICTED ACTION / SITUATION

If the bee population dies off,

"under the condition that"

farmers will have a problem.

 

If we find out why bees are dying,

 

we will be able to fix the cause. 

If we don't find a solution,

 

bees may disappear.

If a colony of bees left the hive,

 

we were supposed to call animal control services.

IF—CAUSE  AND EFFECT

An if phrase can also express a repeated and predictable activity that is the cause for the effect in the main clause. The meaning of the if phrase expresses frequency (relative timing) rather than condition. The meaning is similar to using when or whenever. However, if expresses a little less certainty than when about whether or not  the activity in the main clause will occur.  "On the occasions that X occurs, Y is the predictable effect."

CAUSE EFFECT
IF  / WHEN  MULTIPLE SITUATIONS  ROUTINE OCCURENCES

If people use pesticides,

"on the occasions that"

they harm bees.  

 

If a bee collects pollen from a flower,

it also collects pesticide.

If a large number of bees die,

the colony collapses.

 

If a colony of bees left the hive,

 

we called animal control services.

 

colony – a group of bees and the queen

collapse – fail, die off

harm – hurt

pesticide (N) – a chemical substance used to kill insects and small animals that destroy crops

Also see If / When for cause-effect.

 

 

 

 

 

Punctuation

Commas

bee collecting pollen
 

 

Initial or Final Position

INITIAL-POSITION  

commaA comma separates the condition, a prepositional phrase headed by if, from the main clause when it is placed before the main clause.

PP – CONDITION EFFECT CLAUSE

If you want local bees to survive,

use less toxic pesticides. 

If you don't believe it,  

ask any beekeeper.

FINAL -POSITION

no commaNo comma is used when the adjunct prepositional phrase with if is placed after the main clause.

EFFECT CLAUSE PP–CONDITION

Use less toxic pesticides

 if if you want local bees to survive.

Ask any beekeeper

 if if you don't believe me. 

 

survive (V) – to continue to live after an accident, war, or illness

toxic (Adj) – poisonous, or harmful

beekeeper (N) – a person who takes care of bee hives (boxes where bees live)

if — heads an adjunct 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. Call me if ready.

 

 

 

 

 

Other Conditional Expressions

Should and Happen

phone exchange

 

 

Should / Happen

IF ... SHOULD

A verb expression such as should or should happen can be used in the content clause after if to express that something is unlikely to happen if by chance.

CONDITION CLAUSE EFFECT CLAUSE

If you should see my phone,

please let me know.

If  she should come by, 

call me.

If you should happen to arrive early,  

wait for me.

IF ... HAPPEN TO

Similarly, a verb and infinitive expression happen to can be used in the content clause after if to express that something is unlikely to occur if by chance.

CONDITION CLAUSE EFFECT CLAUSE

If  you happen to see my phone,

please let me know.

If  she happens to come by,

don't let her in.  (unlikely)

 

 

 

Also see: Omitting If  If / In case

 

 

 

 

 

Polite Conditionals

Will in the clause after if

 

 

Request vs. Wish

REQUEST

Will in the main clause expresses a future condition . However, will in the clause after if expresses a request for someone¹ to do something. "If you are willing to…"

IF CLAUSE MAIN CLAUSE

If you will step this way please,  

(I will show you to your table.) 

If  you will kindly wait a moment please.

(then I will help you.)

If  you will give me a moment,

I'll be right with you.

If he* will walk this way, please.

1st or 3rd person is not used

WISH

Will in the clause after if expresses an indirect request or a wish, a situation slightly more likely to happen (optimistic) than when using If only (a regretful wish).

IF CLAUSE PREDICTED EFFECT

If  he will just try a little harder,

he will succeed.  (wish)  / If only he would try harder... (regret) 

If  she will only listen a moment,

I could explain myself.    / If only she would listen ... (regret) 

If  you will just take moment to think it over,

you will understand better.  (wish)  / If only you would take ... (regret) 

 

 

 

you – only second person singular or plural is used in this if-clause

will (V) – being willing, determined, sure to do something;  will (future modal verb)  versus

*Yellow highlighted words are examples of incorrect usage.

 

 

 

 

 

If you won't

Express lack of cooperation

 

 

 

Refusal — If you won't

NEGATIVE CONDITION

Won't in the condition expresses the idea of someone being "unwilling" to do something. 

CONDITION— IF…WON'T PREDICTED EFFECT

If you won't work harder, (are unwilling)

then you will continue to fail.  

If you won't eat your broccoli, (are unwilling)

then you won't get dessert.

NEGATIVE CONDITION WORDING

A similar meaning is expressed with unwilling (Adj) and refuse (V) in the condition clause after if.

CONDITION— IF…UNWILLING PREDICTED EFFECT

If you are unwilling work harder,

then you will continue to fail.  

If you refuse to work harder,  

then you will continue to fail.  

 

will (modal) – future intent  We will leave tomorrow.
will
(V) – being willing, determined, sure to do something; She willed herself not to cry.

 

 

 

 

 

Other if Complements

Be going to / Am to…

 

 

If I am to…

IF + BE GOING + TO VERB

Be going to  in the clause after if expresses future intent, the main clause states the condition for obtaining it.  (The speaker is asking for cooperation.) 

STATEMENT OF INTENT ADVICE / CONDITION

If I am going to help,

you need to give me your full attention.

If bees are going to be saved,

we must stop using toxic chemicals. (passive voice)

If you are going to arrive there on time,

you had better leave now.

If he is going to be home by 9:00 (intent),

he ought to start walking by 8:30. (requirement)

IF +  (BE)  + TO VERB

If…am to + verb  in a clause after if is a shorter way of expressing conditional intent (assistance) when asking for someone to cooperate.

STATEMENT OF INTENT ADVICE / CONDITION

If I am to help,

you need to give me your full attention.

If bees are to be saved,

we must stop using toxic chemicals.

If you are to arrive there on time,

you had better leave now.  

*If he is to be home by 9:00,

I will drop by /  he ought to start walking at 8:30. (condition)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Short If Complements

If necessary…

 

 

Expressions with If

FULL CLAUSE

If it (be) necessary in the if prep. phrase expresses a condition of requirement. (also if any good, if ever, if anything)                             

If  [it is] necessary, scientists will work overtime.

If [there is] any good that comes of this, it will be a miracle.

Rarely, if [it is] ever, are bees out at night.

I'm not upset.  If [there is] anything , I am relieved.

If [you are] in doubt, ask for help.

SHORTENED IF CLAUSE

If necessary, If anything, if ever, if in doubt are other common expressions  that may be shortened.  subject + be is omitted.

If necessary, scientists will work overtime. (Adj)

If any good comes of this, it will be a miracle. (NP)

Rarely, if ever, are bees out at night. (Adv)

I'm not upset.  If anything, I am relieved. (N)

If in doubt, ask for help. (PP)

 

See Adjunct Prepositional Phrases. 

 

 

 

 

 

Common Mistakes

Errors and Solutions

 

 

Error and Solution

ERROR

*If you will need something, just ask.    

Will is used in an if-clause as a request. (See expressions.)

*I'll come pick you up if you will be done early.   

Will is used in an if-clause as a request.

If he will success, he can find it.
 

SOLUTION

If you need something, just ask.   (future chance of need) 
If you are going to need something, give us 24 hours to get it. (future intent - requirement) 
*If you will need something, . . .   (Need cannot be used in a request.) 

I'll come pick you up if you are done early.  (future chance of being done) 
 

If he wills success, he can find it.   (Will can be used as a lexical verb meaning "to purpose, determine on, or elect, by an act of will".)

 

*Yellow highlighted words are examples of incorrect usage.

 

 

 

 

 

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Grammar Notes (Advanced)

Traditional and Linguistic Description

 

 

Traditional / ESL and Linguistic Descriptions

TRADITIONAL GRAMMAR

In traditional grammar, a a conditional clause is an adverbial clause (related to the verb).

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

A real conditional relates a cause-effect relationship of a true situation.
An unreal conditional relates a cause-effect relationship of an untrue situation, 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  is a 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)

REED-KELLOGG DIAGRAM 

We take an umbrella if it is raining.

LINGUISTIC DESCRIPTION

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

if  — preposition that takes a content clause as its subordinate complement.  (PP + 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.      

 

Clause; Subject / Predicate; Finite / Nonfinite; NP –noun phrase; N – noun; VP – verb phrase; V – verb; Compcomplement; Detdeterminer; Adj –  adjective; AdjP – adjective phrase; PPprepositional phrase; P – preposition; SubSubordinator

 

 

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

Tense Agreement

bee
 

 

Read Context

A World Without Bees

When Professor Gordon Frankie wants to impress school children with the importance of bees, he lays out an array of foods such as berries, grapes, pears, and chocolate alongside a couple of dried-out tortillas and rice cakes and asks them which foods they prefer. "The kids go for the fruits and chocolate," he said.

 

"Then I tell them: In a world without bees, the only choice they'd have would be the dried-out tortillas or rice cakes, since wheat and rice are self-pollinated. Even chocolate, from the cacao plant, depends on the pollination of bees. That gets their attention."  The exact cause of Colony Collapse Disorder is not known.

 

 

 

Complete the verb form.

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

 

1.

2.


pesticide (N) – a poison that kills a particular or several kinds of insects

3.
– a small destructive insect that attaches itself to the body of the bee and sucks its blood.
treat (V) – apply medicine to stop a harmful disease

4.

5.

6.

7.

8.

9.
How should the sentence be punctuated?


10.
How should the sentence be punctuated?


 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 2

Bee Society

 

 

 

Complete the sentence with "if" expressions.

  1. Select the response from the list that best completes the sentence. 
  2. Compare your responses to the feedback by clicking the "Check" or "Check 11-21" button.

 

11.


abandon (V) – to leave someone, especially someone you are responsible for

12.


swarm (N) – a large group of flying bees
disturb (V) – to bother
hive (N) – box or location in which bees live

13.


harm (V) – hurt or endanger

14.

15.

16.

17.


benefit (V) – to receive advantages and improvements in our life from their work

18.

19.

20.
What does the if-clause express in this sentence?

21.
What does the if-clause express in this sentence?

22.


sting (N)– the painful bite of an insect