Advanced Conditional Statements

image by WTCC instructor ecparent

Last week, we talked about how to make conditional statements – sentences with “if.” We looked at the two simplest types of conditional statements, zero conditional and first conditional. First, let’s review how to form a conditional statement. There are two parts:

  1. the dependent “if” clause – if + subject + verb, etc.
  2. the independent “then” clause – (then) subject + verb, etc.

You can put the two clauses in either order (dependent + independent OR independent + dependent).

If you give me bad news, I will cry.
I will cry if you give me bad news.

Again, notice these two things:

  1. When the “if” clause is first, you put a comma at the end of it (before the “then” clause). When the independent “then” clause comes first, there is no comma.
  2. I didn’t use the word “then” at all in these sentences. It is optional in the first sentence, but not in the second sentence. You can use “then” when you put the independent clause at the end of the sentence (If you give me bad news, then I will cry.), but you cannot use “then” at the beginning of the sentence.

You can review last week’s post to remember how to form zero conditional and first conditional.

Now let’s look at two MORE kinds of conditional statements – second conditional and third conditional.

Second Conditional

We use second conditional for imaginary situations and their probable results. Sometimes we imagine things that are possible, and sometimes we imagine crazy, impossible situations just for fun. The point is that these things are not true now. They are only hypothetical (imaginary).

If + subject + past-tense verb + , + subject + modal verb + base verb.
Subject + modal verb + base verb + if + subject + past-tense verb.

Here are some examples of second conditional statements:

  • If you drank 6 liters of water in one morning, you might die.
  • If I exercised regularly, I could lose weight.
  • Sally would meet more people if she went out more often.

In these sentences, we are imagining a situation. The situation is not real now. You are not drinking 6 liters of water this morning. I don’t exercise regularly. Sally doesn’t go out very often. We are imagining what is possible in a situation that is different from reality.

Imagine these crazy situations. Then finish the sentences with possibilities.

  1. If I had 10 fingers on each hand (20 fingers total), I…
  2. If I lived on Mars, I…
  3. If I were a mermaid/merman (part human, part fish), I…

Do you see anything strange about #3? It is not normal to use “were” with the subjects I, he, she, or it. However, in second conditional, when the verb in the “if” clause is BE, it is always “were,” no matter what the subject is.

Third Conditional

Third conditional is totally unreal because when we use third conditional, we are imagining a different past. We know the true past, but we want to imagine a different one and its probable results. Look at these examples.

  • True past: I didn’t study for the test. I failed the test.
    Imaginary past: If I had studied for the test, then I might not have failed.
  • True past: I went to the beach. I didn’t wear sunscreen. I got burned by the sun.
    Imaginary past: If I had worn sunscreen, I wouldn’t have gotten burned.
  • True past: I ate too much candy. I got sick.
    Imaginary past: If I hadn’t eaten so much candy, I wouldn’t have gotten sick.

In each one, we are imagining a different past. As you can see, we often use third conditional to talk about regrets. Here is how we form third conditional:

If + subject + past perfect verb (had + past participle) + , + subject + modal verb + have + past participle.
Subject + modal verb + have + past participle + if + subject + past perfect verb.

Third Conditional Discussion

Think about a decision that changed your life. Talk with your classmates about how your life would have changed if you had made a different decision. For example, I wanted to move to Europe. I had work opportunities in both Spain and Italy, and I visited both countries to decide where I wanted to live, but I decided to stay in Raleigh. Six months later, I started dating my husband, and a year after that, we were married. If I had moved to Europe, I wouldn’t have married my husband.

Now it’s your turn. Tell your story!

What if…?

When you want to ask a general question with an “if” clause, you can put “What” in front of the “if” clause. We usually ask these kinds of questions with second and third conditional because we are curious about a situation that isn’t real.

  • What if I lived on Mars?
  • What if I had studied for the test?
  • What if I had moved to Europe?

You can tell whether the question is second or third conditional based on the verb. A past-tense verb means it is second conditional. A past perfect verb means it is third conditional. These questions are very general, so you can answer them in many different ways.

  • What if I lived on Mars?
    You would have to wear a space suit every day.
    I would come to visit you.
    You might never see your mom again.
  • What if I had studied for the test?
    You would have passed the test.
    You would have passed the course.
    You might have attended a better university.
    You could have gotten a better job.
    I might never have met you.
  • What if I had moved to Europe?
    I wouldn’t have married my husband.
    We wouldn’t have had our daughter.
    I might have married a European.
    My life would be very different now.

Mixed Conditional

This sounds confusing, but it’s not too bad. In second conditional, we are imagining a different present. In third conditional, we are imagining a different past. In mixed conditional, we are imagining a different past that creates a different present. For example, if I had moved to Europe, my life would be very different now. See? I’m imagining a different past (if I had moved to Europe) and a different present based on it (my life would be very different now).

To form a mixed conditional, we use a third conditional “if” clause (for the past) and a second conditional “then” clause (for the present).

If + subject + past perfect verb (had + past participle) + , + subject + modal verb + base verb.
Subject + modal verb + base verb + if + subject + past perfect verb.

How would things be different NOW:

  • if you had stayed in your country?
  • if Michael Jackson hadn’t died?
  • if the Nazis had won World War 2?
  • if you had never started studying English?
  • if you had grown up with a different religion?

Write one complete sentence to answer each question, and ask your teacher to check it for you.

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