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Natives & Tenses: Chapter 17 Conditionals 3: 'Reality'

[All information copyrighted to EnglishAdam.com]

Conditionals 3: The Reality
Textbooks ignore the fact that conditionals don't really exist as they portray them.

"IF" is just a word that introduces a phrase that describes a condition, or situation, or hypothesis.
The impact of which is another phrase.
Both phrases follow normal grammar rules, much like two separate phrases in a story!
And in fact exactly like a story, there is a coherence between the parts, but they are still parts
and we can play with them to express various ideas and information.
This idea of "5 Conditionals" means that...

...students are taught them as 5 fixed long, two part, sentences.
And there is no variation, there is no flexibility.
So of course students PANIC!
They panic because they feel they are just repeating some RULE but

Click me!

To illustrate my point, here are 6 "incorrect" conditionals but completely correct phrases!
AA - "If he was here yesterday, then he is the murderer."

BB - "If she's happy, then he was found innocent."

CC - "OK we'll buy the tickets if you'll pay for the hotel."

DD - "If Emperor Augustus was a megalomaniac, then so was Julius Caesar. "

EE - "If you wouldn't mind, I'd like to leave now."

FF - "If that poor man in jail will be found innocent next year, then the whole police force had been lying when they arrested him."
For the sentences AA to FF, what tenses were used in these IF sentences?

CC - If WILL, then WILL.
DD - If PAST, then PAST.
EE - If WOULD, then WOULD.
Lots of 'RULES' being broken here!

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Before we look at the rules being broken, what do the sentences mean?

Let's have a look then!

Click me!

What does the choice of tenses/structures communicate here?
AA - "If he was here yesterday, then he is the murderer."

IF part: By using the PAST tense for the past with IF, it means there is only a SINGLE distance.
The PAST itself.
In other words the speaker doesn't want to communicate that this is UNREAL,
the speaker wants to say that 'Yes' this is POSSIBLE, A POSSIBLE REALITY.

THEN part: And then with the PRESENT as a RESULT, it makes it DEFINITE, 'FACTUAL'.
Unlike WILL which is kind of a reaction, an AFTER, here the speaker leaves no doubt, no space.
There is no escapng this FIXED FACT/PLAN. "he IS the murderer"!

Click me!

What does the choice of tenses/structures communicate here?
BB - "If she's happy, then he was found innocent."

IF part: This simply describes a REALITY in the PRESENT.
The speaker sees or understands that she is indeed happy.

THEN part:And she is happy because of an event in the past.
This phrase is far more about LOGIC, than it is HYPOTHETICAL.
"This fact now was because of this event before."
We could have said:
"She is happy today, so I presume he was found innocent."
The IF sentence here is unremarkable, it just shows how the Classic Conditionals
are only HALF THE STORY!

Click me!

What does the choice of tenses/structures communicate here?
CC - "OK we'll buy the tickets if you'll pay for the hotel."

(This particular sentence was taken from one of the most important books on English Grammar:
Micheal Swann, "Practical English Usage", page 222)
IF part: Students have been repeatedly told not to use IF + WILL.
But like so much with the English Tenses usage, almost everything is possible!!
The question becomes: "What is being communicated here?"
Well WILL is a RESPONSE, isn't it?
So here it means... "IF YOU RESPOND (to this discussion/situation) in this way then..."
What about: "Ask her, and if she won't tell you,..." - a response to being asked.
"Look I know it's difficult, but if you will be able to come that day..." - a response to a change in situation

THEN part: This is just a normal use of WILL as a response.
If the IF happens, then WE WILL....

Click me!

What does the choice of tenses/structures communicate here?
DD - "If Emperor Augustus was a megalomaniac, then so was Julius Caesar. "

IF part: This IF is identical to Example AA.
It is a SINGLE distance, and describes the distance of PAST.
So there is no distance of REALITY.
The speaker thinks that Augustus was a megalomaniac.
The speaker is simply saying "If this fact then..."
And the fact just happens to be in the PAST!

THEN part: Now in the same way in AA, there is NO RESPONSE.
There is no WILL or WOULD.
In AA the result was a PRESENT FACT.
In DD the result is a PAST FACT.
Simply, "IF this is a FACT in the PAST, THEN this is a FACT in the PAST."

Click me!

What does the choice of tenses/structures communicate here?
EE - "If you wouldn't mind, I'd like to leave now."

IF part: So in the same way as Example CC, we have a RESPONSE in the IF.
But this is in the PAST? Why? What DISTANCE is it communicating?
The speaker is FORMALLY asking them about their RESPONSE.
RESPONSE to what here? Well the implied request of asking to leave!
Yes how INDIRECT this is! Because the REQUEST to leave is in the THEN/RESULT part!!!! Wow!
But the RESPONSE to my request comes first...amazing!
This makes completely sense, because the speaker is announcing their request after
stating that they are trying to be very polite and not at all rude.
The reverse order, could be a little bit rude, almost sarcastic!
"I'd like to leave now, If you wouldn't mind."
Of course, the TONE of the VOICE will impact both sentenes greatly.
Either one could be POLITE or PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE!

THEN part:And this is simply a RESPONSE with a DISTANCE.
Again here the DISTANCE is FORMALITY.

Click me!

What does the choice of tenses/structures communicate here?
FF - "If that poor man in jail will be found innocent next year, then the whole police force had been lying when they arrested him."

IF part: So like CC and EE, we have a RESPONSE with the IF part.
In this context it is a RESPONSE to what the Judge is going to decide.
Interestingly there is no DISTANCE here, WILL is CLOSE, unlike WOULD.
This means two things, one is that it is about NOW/FUTURE, of course,
and that the speaker feels this is a REALISTIC scenario. NOT IMPROBABLE.

THEN part: Now we have a result in the PAST PERFECT!
What DISTANCES are being communicated?
Certainly one distance is time, it is about the PAST.
And we can ignore FORMALITY. So this is either more PAST or is about REALITY.
The speaker believes this is the logical case, that it is TRUE.
It is emphasizing a DOUBLE PAST, the PAST before they arrested him.
The following is possible, but changes meaning slightly:
"...were lying when they arrested him." is a SINGLE DISTANCE.
This makes the lying and arresting happen at the same time.

Click me!

So we can see we BREAK many of the "RULES"!

We move between FAR and CLOSE in the same sentences...(see AA, BB, FF)
We use IF + WILL, ...(see CC, FF)
We use IF + WOULD, (see EE)
We ignore the Double Past with IF in the PAST...(see AA, DD)
That "THEN/RESULT" can happen BEFORE the "IF CLAUSE" in time...(see BB, FF and possibly in AA,CC,EE)

Click me!

Possibly ALL of the 'Rules' that Grammar Books list, can be broken.

I hope you found it useful to forget about the "RULES",
Thank You for staying for the journey.
One last thing though....

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Woah dude!
That is even harder to remember than all the List of USES!

Possibly TRUE.
I am not saying to abandon what you know.
I am not saying to think about the Meaning of the Tenses when you speak.
I am DEFINITELY not saying you have to use the Meanings at all!

This guide was simply to answer some of the "WHY?" Questions that students have.
And to give a sense of what precise messages are being said.

I would like that students simply notice sometimes when the Classic Rules of Grammar
are ignored, and appreciate what might be being said.

No one NEEDS to use the Meaning of the Tenses.
But there is just a little bit more POWER if you do.

Click me!

[Sourced: EnglishAdam.com]

Test Your Knowledge!


Must we use the Past Perfect if the "IF CLAUSE" is about the past?

Theory Test

Click to show



"If Emperor Augustus was a megalomaniac, then so was Julius Caesar. "


Click to show


No specific notes on this question yet, sorry.



Practice Your Knowledge!

Cards coming soon!


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