Sentence Sense home   part one index parts 2 part 3 part 4

Resources  ESL Tips


Conditional sentences contain two sections: one section gives the result of the condition, and the other explains what has to happen to reach the result:
  • I WILL SERVE you salmon / if you COME to my house for dinner. (future possible actions)
  • Unless you TELL me soon, / we WILL BUY the salmon this afternoon.
These sentences are about possible actions in the future. Notice that the verb in the result part of eash sentence is in the form that fits the time of the action, but the verb in the condition part (beginning with if or unless) is one step back in time from the action. This rule of stepping back in time works for most conditions. Below is a summary of the rules for verbs in conditional sentences.

Future real (for conditions that make something possible in the future)
condition clause = present
resulting command = present
any other result clause = future (sometimes with modals)
  1. If you REMEMBER, then FOLLOW.
  2. If you LOSE your books, you WILL HAVE difficulty with the test.
  3. She MIGHT not COME unless she FINISHES her homework.
Present real (for conditions about facts that are generally true)
condition clause = present
result clause = present (sometimes with modals)
  1. If the moon IS full, the comet IS harder to see.
  2. We CAN'T SEE the comet unless the clouds PASS.
Present unreal (for events that might be possible in the present, but aren't likely)
condition clause = past
result clause = conditional modal & base form of main verb
Notes: 1) A wish is always an unreal condition. 2) The verb to be uses the form were in unreal conditions.
  1. If the buses RAN to the airport, we WOULD TAKE one to pick up Aunt Rhody.
  2. I WISH that I HAD a car.
  3. If he WERE my brother, I WOULD ARGUE with him.
  4. I WOULDn't ARGUE with him unless he DROVE too fast.
Past unreal (for events that didn't happen in the past, but we can imagine them anyway)
condition clause = past perfect
result clause = conditional modal & have & past participle of main verb
  1. If she HAD ROBBED the bank, she WOULD HAVE BEEN rich.
  2. But if she HAD GONE to jail, her family COULDN'T HAVE USED all that money.
  3. I wish that I HAD SLEPT longer last night.
  4. I WOULD HAVE WOKEN up sooner if my neighbor HAD SUNG in the shower, as usual.

Return to the regular text for this chapter to find a Check this Out link to a website that explains conditional sentences in more detail.

home home ESL Tips      

Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7