Present Unreal Situations

Strategizing with hypothetical statements

Chess board
 

 

Strategy Statements

Before making a move in a game like chess, a player thinks about what will happen if he or she makes the move.  The player does not actually make the move, but thinks about it instead. No move is made until the player considers several hypothetical moves.  The player is analyzing options based on cause-effect relationships.

We express hypothetical situations with the preterit. The past tense verb form expresses distance or remoteness from reality  rather than a past time frame. Hypothetical, unreal conditional, or irrealis indicates that an action or state-of-being is not a fact.

 

 

 

"In order to" Statements vs. Present Conditional

STRATEGY – IN ORDER TO

A strategy states a well-thought out but imaginary action taken on something or someone. The strategy can be expressed hypothetically as cause-effect: the strategy in the if-clause and the imagined effect in the result clause.

pawn I'll move my pawn forward (in order) to take his bishop.

castle or rookI'll slide my castle (in order) to protect it from his knight and queen.

kingI'll checkmate his king (in order) to make him mad.

checkerboardI'll let my friend win (in order) to be a good friend.

CONDITIONAL – UNREAL

The preterit is used in the If-clause. The preterit "distances" the situation from  present reality ("irrealis"), and it expresses an imaginary or hypothetical situation. A modal would or could is used in the result-clause.

If I moved my pawn forward,

then I could take his bishop.  present unreal 

If I slid my castle out of the way,

then his queen might not take it.  present unreal 

If I checkmated his king,

my friend would be mad.  present unreal 

If I were a good friend,

I would let my friend win once in a while.  present unreal 

 

preterit (n.) – a past tense verb form; past or past perfect

hypothetical (adj.) – assumed by hypothesis (theory); unreal conditions or situations

in order – for the purpose of

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Irrealis" Were & Would

Distancing Ourselves from Reality

lottery winner
 

 

Present Hypothetical Statements — "Irrealis"

STATEMENT

We use special verbs with if when we are talking about situations that we imagine; that is, things that probably will not happen. The unreal statement includes the preterit. The result clause includes a would or could modal form. 

CONDITION RESULT — WOULD / COULD

If I were/was a millionaire,

I would buy a private jet.

If I were/was a millionaire,

I could buy a private jet.

If I could choose anything,

I would buy a house.

If I could choose anything,

I would buy a house. 
I could buy¹ a house. 

Were I a millionaire,

I could buy a house.
 

NEGATIVE / QUESTION

A negative is formed by placing not after the verb in the hypothetical clause or in the other clause.  A question is formed by inverting the subject and auxiliary verb (would or could) in the result clause.

CONDITION WOULD OR COULD NOT

If I were/was a millionaire, (I am not)

I wouldn't travel on a commercial airline.

If I weren't /wasn't a millionaire, (I am)

I would have to travel like everyone else.

 If I could vacation anywhere,   

I wouldn't stay here.
 

If you were a millionaire,

could you stop working?
       move rightmove subject forward

If you could choose,

would you move away?
       move rightmove subject forward

 

irrealis (n.) – indicates that a certain situation or action is not known to have happened as the speaker is talking; it is hypothetical
was / were –  We often use were instead of was after if.  Both was and were are used in formal English, but only was is used in informal English.  If I were you...  Were is a subjunctive verb form.

¹repeating could is awkward
preterit (n.) – a past tense verb form; past or past perfect
commercial airline – an airline used by the public, not private

 

 

 

 

Hypothetical Situations

Mixed Time Frames

rainy

 

 

 

Mixing Time Frames

PRESENT / FUTURE CONDITION HYPOTHETICAL RESULTING ACTION

A future hypothetical is expressed with be going (not will) in an if-clauseWere (formal) or was (informal) is used for 1st and 3rd person singular in the if-clause Either of the clauses on the left can be mixed with the clauses on the right.

The resulting action is imaginary. Note that phrasing for present and future tense are the same. Also note "be going to" and "go" expressions (go shopping/ go fishing/ go swimming) can add to the confusion.

FUTURE HYPOTHETICAL RESULT CLAUSE

If it were going to rain soon,  (later today)

I wouldn't plan on walking the dogs later.   future

I would be walking the dogs now.   present  

I would have walked the dogs already. past
 

If we were going to go to the movies,  (later today)

we would buy our tickets in advance. future

we would be online buying our tickets. future

we would be getting ready now. present

we would have left already. past

PRESENT HYPOTHETICAL RESULT CLAUSE

If it were raining now,   

I would plan on walking the dogs later.   future

I wouldn't be walking the dogs now.   present  

I would have brought the dogs inside already. past 
 

If we were going to the movies,   (now)

we would buy our tickets in advance. future

we would be buying our tickets online. future

we would be getting ready now. present

we would have left already. past

 

Also see Mixed Tenses   

 

 

 

 

 

Present & Past Hypothetical

Expression – If it weren't for 

 

 

 

If it weren't for / If it hadn't been for

IF IT WAS/ WERE NOT FOR

If it weren't for...  is another way to say that one event changes everything. The expression is followed by a noun phrase (NP) or a gerund clause.

IF IT WEREN'T FOR … RESULT CLAUSE

If it weren't for your mother,

you wouldn't be here.

If it  weren't for all this homework,

I'd go with you.

If it  weren't for his offering his services for free,

we would never be able to afford healthcare.

If it  weren't for music,

we'd all be dancing to drum beats.

IF IT HAD NOT BEEN FOR

If it hadn't been for...  is another way to say that one past event changed everything.  The expression is followed by a noun phrase (NP) or a gerund clause.

IF IT HADN'T BEEN FOR … RESULT CLAUSE

If it  hadn't been for his advice,

I would have made the wrong decision. 

If it  hadn't been for his advice,

I wouldn't be here now. 

If it  hadn't been for your help,

I would have been lost. 

If it  hadn't been for you wanting to move to Alaska,

I would still be working.  

 

Were or was / weren't or wasn't can be used
Also see: Omitting If –  Were I , Had I..., Should you...

 

 

 

 

Present & Future Hypothetical

Expression – Were to

 

 

 

Present & Future Hypothetical — full and shortened

FULL HYPOTHETICAL

If … were going to  can be used in the if-clause to express a future hypothetical situation or a request.  (was is used informally)

IF…WERE GOING TO… RESULT CLAUSE

If you were going to take a trip,
(future)

where would you go?

If the government were going to legalize marijuana,

it would have done so by now.

If you were [going] to stand a little to the left,

I could see better.   (a request)

If you were [going] to lend me a little money,

I could buy a ticket.  (a request)

* If you were going to be on time…   

 

SHORTENED HYPOTHETICAL

If … were to, a shortened form with just the auxiliary before the infinitive, may be used to express a similar meaning.

IF … WERE TO… RESULT CLAUSE

If you were to take a trip,

where would you go?

If the government were to legalize marijuana,

it would have a great deal of difficulty.

If you were to stand a little to the left,

I could see better.   (a request)

If you were to lend me a little money,

I could buy a ticket.   (a request)

*If you were to know the answer...

 

 

was / were –  We often use were instead of was after if.  Both was and were are used in formal English, but only was is used in informal English.  If I were you... 
*sounds awkward with stative verbs

 

 

 

 

 

 

Common Mistakes

Errors and Solutions

 

 

 

Error and Solution

ERROR

*If you would have a flu shot, you wouldn't be so sick now.
Would is not normally used in the if-clause: the meaning differs.

If you could get a flu shot, you wouldn't be so sick now.

 

 

SOLUTION

If you would have a flu shot (be willing), you would have some protection against the flu. (implies: you are unwilling)

If you could get a flu shot (be able), you would have some protection against the flu. (implies: you are unable to get, locate, take, pay, or qualify for one.)

If you had had a flu shot, you wouldn't be so sick now. (earlier condition)

If you had  a flu shot, you would have some protection against the flu. (present condition)

 

flu (n.) – influenza, a virus, a common illness that makes you feel very tired and weak, gives you a sore throat, and makes you cough and have to clear your nose a lot
shot (n.) – injection; something that protects a person from a disease with a vaccine

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice

Managing a Restaurant

Dinner
 

 

Determine which verb tense can complete the statement.

  1. Select the response that best completes the sentence. 
  2. Compare your response to the answer by clicking the "Check" or the "Check 1-8" button.

 

1.
If we moved the restaurant downtown,
   


2.
If we used more local farm produce,





vegtables

3.
If we hired a pastry chef,





pastry chef

4.
If we opened an oyster bar,





oyster

5.
If we improved the lightening,





lighting

6.
We could fit more customers in the restaurant



 

seating

7.
We would get more reservations





open table online reservations

8.
Our business would improve