Grammar-QuizzesConnectorsConnective PrepositionsConditional › Present Unreal Conditionals

Present Unreal Conditionals  (Remote Conditional)

Develop a strategy 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 that he or she can take and their outcomes.

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 is not a fact.

 

 

Strategy Statements—open vs. remote

STRATEGY —OPEN CONDITIONAL  (REAL)

An open (real) conditional expression is often used to analyze options that are available. The speaker considers one action at a time and its outcome. Then, the person decides on the best course of action. "Under situation X, Y will occur."  When an immediate answer is needed, a person is more likely to use an open (real) condition to express strategy.

The modal will or can is used in the main clause, and a present verb form is used in the clause after if.

OPTION OUTCOME

If I move my pawn forward,

Under this condition,

I can take his bishop.

this will happen.

If I slide my castle away,

 

his queen will not take it.

 

If I checkmate his king,

 

he will have to move it aside.

 

If he moves his king aside,

 

my horse will take it.

 

STRATEGY—REMOTE CONDITIONAL  (UNREAL)

A remote (unreal) conditional is also used to examine options. The difference is that the speaker is distancing him/herself from the present reality ("irrealis"), as if the person were considering it from a separate space. Using a remote conditional does not mean that the person is less likely to make the move; it is more of a personal preference in expressing strategy.

The modal would, could or might is used in the main clause, and a preterit verb form is used in the clause after if.

IMAGINED CONDITION IMAGINED RESULT

If I moved my pawn forward,

pawnI could take his bishop. 

If I slid my castle out of the way,

castle or rookhis queen might not take it. 

If I checkmated his king,

kinghe would have to move it. 

If he were lucky,

checkerboardhe would win. 

 

in order – for the purpose of, toward the goal of

Under the condition that X occurs, Y will happen

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

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

strategize [US-Engl] / develop a strategy [Br-Engl] (V) — make, create or think up a plan with a series of actions that will enable you to reach a goal.

strategy (N) – the process of planning out a series of actions to reach a goal, a desired end, success; adopt, employ or use a stategy — put the strategy (plan) into action.

"The remote construction differs in meaning from open in that it entertains the condition as being satisfied in a world which is potentially different from the actual world." (Huddleston 8 §14.2.1)

When the context of the open conditional requires a real world, immediate answer,  hypothetical (remote) wording sounds odd:  the more time-sensitive (urgent) the question, the less hypothetical the wording.

 

 

 

 

"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. 

UNREAL CONDITION IMAGINED RESULT
PREP PHRASE + CLAUSE w/ preterit CLAUSE w/ WOULD/COULD + VERB

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.                                                              

UNREAL CONDITION IMAGINED RESULT
PREP PHRASE + CLAUSE w/ preterit CLAUSE w/ WOULD/COULD + VERB

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

 

¹repeating could is awkward

irrealis (N) – indicates that a certain situation or action is not known to have happened as the speaker is talking; it is hypothetical, imaginary (in a distant reality).

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

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.

 

 

 

Hypothetical Situations

Mixed Time Frames

rainy
 

Mixed Time Frames—Future and Present Hypotheticals

FUTURE HYPOTHETICAL

A future hypothetical is expressed with be going (not will) in the clause following ifWere going (formal) or was going (informal) is used for 1st and 3rd person singular. 

The resulting imaginary action is expressed with would (pres. & future), would be -ing (progressive), would have (past), or would have been -ing (past progressive).

FUTURE HYPOTHETICAL RESULT CLAUSE
WERE GOING / WAS GOING WOULD

If it were going to rain soon, 

(It will not actually rain later today.)

I would plan on walking the dogs afterward.   future

I would walk the dogs later.   future

I would be walking the dogs now.   pres. progressive

I would have walked the dogs already. past

If we were going to attend a rock concert,  (later today)

(We will not actually attend a concert later tonight.)

we would buy our tickets in advance. future

we would buy our tickets online. future

we would be getting ready now. present

we would have left already. past

PRESENT HYPOTHETICAL

A present hypothetical is also expressed with be going (not will) in the clause following ifWere going (formal) or was going (informal) is used for 1st and 3rd person singular. 

The resulting imaginary action is expressed with would (pres. & future), would be -ing (progressive), would have (past), or would have been -ing (past progressive).   

PRESENT HYPOTHETICAL RESULT CLAUSE
WERE GOING / WAS GOING WOULD

If it were raining now, 

(It is not actually raining now.)

I would plan on walking the dogs afterward.   future

I would walk the dogs later.   future

I wouldn't be walking the dogs now.   pres. progressive  

I would have brought the dogs inside already. past  

If we were attending a rock concert now,  

(We aren't actually attending a concert now.)

we would be in a good mood afterwards. future

we would be taking pictures. future

we would be singing along. present

we would have been seated already. past passive voice

 

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 necessary. I rarely, if ever, call them..

Also see Mixed Tenses (past)

 

 

 

 

 

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; the sick person is being shamed)

If you will get a flu shot, you will have some protection. (a good plan)

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