Conditional Tense

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  • Topic: Conditional sentence, Past tense, Material conditional
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  • Published : May 28, 2012
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CONDITIONAL TENSE

Conditional sentences usually are of the type in which one circumstance will be symbiotic with the other. For example, “if I find her address, I’ll send her the invite.” Normally, there are three kinds of relationships which can be expressed using the conditional- factual, future, and imaginative conditional relationship. Factual conditionals generate two branches- timeless and time-bound conditionals. Furthermore, timeless conditionals are divided into habitual and generic statements. Generic factual conditionals basically serve the purpose of signifying invariable truths which is usually found in scientific journals etc and are usually in simple present tense. For example, “if you melt ice, it turns into water.” Habitual factual conditionals also signify truth but a habitual truth not a scientific one. For example, “if I clean the room, you do the dishes”. Since it is not time-bound, it usually doesn’t just stick to simple present, it sometimes even occurs in simple past. For example, “if Margaret said ‘run!’, Tommy ran”. Another aspect of factual conditionals is implicit and explicit factual conditionals. Implicit factual conditionals are basically the ones which express indirectly an assumption in a time-bound frame. For example, “if you can get a job in Microsoft, you can get a job anywhere!” the underlying message is that securing a job in Microsoft can mean securing a job in any other big multi-national company. However, this fact could change in the future, thus it is time-bound. An explicit factual conditional is when one uses the conditional i.e. the ‘if’ clause to directly mean something. For example, “if you get caught, you will be put behind bars”. So this statement is a direct statement which implies the fact that the person will actually be in trouble if he gets caught. The future conditional relationship implies the future. For example, “if the temperature touches 50 degrees Celsius tomorrow, all the schools and offices will be shut!”. There are times when one is not sure about the future outcome. In that case, the future conditionals can resort to modals such as maybe, might etc. For example, “if we leave early tomorrow morning, we might catch the 7am bus”. The last and final relationship of the conditionals is the imaginative conditional relationship. These are of two types- hypothetical and counterfactual imaginative conditionals. “Hypothetical conditionals express what the speaker perceives to be unlikely yet possible events or states in the if clause” (Celce-Murcia & Larsen-Freeman, 1999, p. 551). For example, “if Tom had money, he would buy a Ferrari”. The word ‘had’ can be a little confusing for the learners as normally ‘had’ is the simple past tense of have and is used in the past. Therefore, it is very important for the teachers to teach the learners that sometimes words which look like past tense can be used for subjunctive as well. In this case we can also use ‘were’ instead of ‘had’. For example, “if Tom were to have money, he would buy a Ferrari”. The only difference is that ‘had’ is the present hypothetical and ‘were’ is future hypothetical. On the other hand, counterfactual conditionals are the opposite. They depict something which is not possible to achieve. For example, “if my grandmother were still alive, she would have attended my wedding”. As usual this is always tough for the learners as again it uses a word which is usually used in the past tense. Example of past counterfactual conditional would be “if my grandmother had still been alive in 2001, she would have attended my wedding”. One thing which is significant is that past tense refers to present time and past perfect tense refers to past time. Also, the subjunctive ‘were’ has been used where ‘was’ would be the norm. For example, “if Martin were the leader of the camp, we would not have such a mishap”. Apart from ‘if’ we can also use ‘only if’ and ‘unless’ in conditional form. ‘only if’ and ‘unless’ both...
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