Conditional sentences express a particular “condition” and the “result” of that condition. The conditional clause begins with if, while the result clause begins with will, would, or would have. Non-native English speakers can find conditional sentence challenging because English has specific rules depending on what type of condition you are expressing. The verb tenses and forms that can be used change depending on whether the condition being expressed is true or untrue and whether it occurs in the past, present, or future.
This second conditional sentences lesson covers “mixed-time” and implied conditions. It also explores a closely related subject, expressing wishes.
“Mixed-Time” in Conditional Sentences
Often the time expressed in the if-clause and that in the result clause are different. Keep in mind that mixed-time conditional sentences must still follow the verb usage rules for true and untrue situations that we covered in part one. Mixed-time conditional sentences require some practice to use effectively because the conditional form that you need to use may not necessarily be intuitive. For example, to re-write the following true statement as a conditional sentence, you need to use the untrue in the present form:
I did not sleep [past] well last night, so I am [present] tired now.
If I had slept [past] better last night, I would not be [present] tired now.
The next, example, on the other hand, requires the use of the untrue in the past form:
Bob is not [present] a skilled public speaker. He did not impress [past] the client with his presentation.
If Bob were [present] a skilled public speaker, he would have impressed [past] the client with his presentation.
Sometimes it is possible to omit “if” when using were, had (past perfect), and should. When if is omitted, the subject and verb are inverted in the conditional/if-clause:
If I were you, I wouldn’t see the movie.
Were I you, I wouldn’t see the movie.
If anyone should arrive, please send them to the conference room.
Should anyone arrive, please send them to the conference room.
In other instances, the entire if-clause of a conditional sentence is implied but not stated. Conditional verbs still use the same result clause as when the if-clause is present:
I would have gone to the concert with you if I hadn’t had to work.
I would have gone to the concert with you, but I had to work.
If my tutor hadn’t helped me, I never would have passed the exam.
I never would have passed the exam without my tutor’s help.
Conditional verbs are frequently used following otherwise when the if-clause is implied:
James ran; otherwise, he would have missed the train.
The English word “wish” is used when the speaker wants reality to be different than it actually is. Wish is followed by a noun clause using past tense verb forms. The following pairs of examples express “true” statements about the past, present, and future, and how you would express a desire for the opposite (the wish) to be true.
A wish about the past:
Ellen couldn’t come to the convention.
I wish Ellen could have come to the convention.
A wish about the present:
It is snowing right now.
I wish it weren’t snowing right now.
A wish about the future:
Robbie isn’t going to be able to attend the party.
I wish Robbie could attend the part.
Would is often used to express that the speaker wants something to happen or someone to do something in the future. This wish may or may not come true. As “would” wishes deal exclusively with the future, whether the wish comes true or not is irrelevant to the structure of the sentence:
It is snowing. I wish it would stop.
I want it to stop snowing.
I’m expecting an important package. I wish the door bell would ring.
I want the door bell to ring.
The phrase I wish you would is often used to make requests. In this role “wish” is a way of expressing that you hope the person you are addressing will do what you are asking of them:
I wish you would go to bed earlier. You always seem tired.
It’s going to be a fun concert. I wish you would come.