2.9: Real and Unreal Conditionals
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In which sentence is there a good chance I will move to Colorado? In which sentence is there little chance?
- I will be happy if I move to Colorado
- I would be happy if I moved to Colorado
- There is a good chance in the first sentence; "will be" is in future tense and "move" is in present tense
- There is little chance in the second sentence; "would be" is modal + base form and "moved" is in past tense
- If my students do well on their final exams, I will be ecstatic
- If my students finish their work early, I am always delighted
- Unless I stop looking at Facebook, I'll never feel contented with life
What tense do we use in the dependent clause? What tense in the independent clause? What is the meaning of "unless" in the third sentence?
- The dependent clause is in simple present
- The independent clause is in present or future
- "Unless" is a negative conjunction meaning "if not"
- I would be happier if I spent more time with my family
- If I practiced random acts of kindness, I might be more joyful
- I could feel more cheerful if I stopped looking at Facebook
What tense is used in the dependent clause? What modals are used in the independent clause?
- The dependent clause is in simple past
- The modals used in the independent clause are "would," "might," "could" + base form of verb
Unreal Conditionals with "Wish"
- I wish I were taller
- I wish I could speak Spanish
- I wish you would stop bothering me
- I wish I had spent more time practicing piano as a child
What form of "be" is used in the first sentence? What verb form is used in the second and third sentences? What tense is used in the fourth sentence? Are these situations real or unreal?
- In the first sentence, the form of "be" is "were," this formed should always be used
- In the second and third sentences, the verb form is "could/would" + base form
- In the fourth sentence, the tense is past perfect
- These situations are unreal
Summary: Real Conditionals
Read conditionals use simple present tense in the dependent clause, and future or present tense in the independent clause
- If I finish this book, I will be pleased
- I am always pleased if I finish a book
Summary: Unreal Conditionals
Future unreal conditionals use past tense in the dependent clause, and the modals "might," "could," and "would" in the independent clause
- If I finished this book, I would be pleased
Past unreal conditionals use past perfect in the dependent clause, and a past modal in the independent clause
- If I had finished this book, I would have been pleased
"Wish" is always an unreal conditional. When the verb is "be," the form is always "were"
Videos and Other Resources
Watch this video to learn about unreal conditionals...
Read about conditionals and practice here...
Read the explanations of conditionals here, then scroll down and click on the exercises to test your knowledge...
- Write three sentences about things that will make you happy (real)
- Write three sentences about things that would make you happy (unreal)
- Write one sentence with a present wish (modal "might," "could," "would")
- Write one sentence with a wish in the past (past perfect)
Use synonyms for happy: blissful, delighted, contented, satisfied, pleased, ecstatic, glad, thrilled, on cloud nine, tickled, joyful, blessed, elated
With your instructor, place these synonyms and others on a line to indicate strong to weak. Discuss any degrees of formality...