We use conditional structures to express the following conditions:

  • possibility
  • moral obligation
  • permission
  • warnings
  • volition or willingness
  • politeness
  • advice and criticism
  • wishes
  • tentativeness

A conditional structure consists of two parts:

  1. a main clause, which expresses the possible(or no longer possible) result: I wouldn’t do that
  2. AND a condition clause (usually an if-clause):  if I were you.

when vs. if: Click on the correct sentence:

  • When there is a fire, do not use the lift.
  • If there is a fire, do not use the lift.

The word IF indicates a condition. In this case, we expect the condition to be unusual.
Use the correct verb tense with different forms of conditional statements:
to express relationships which are true and unchanging: present + present EXAMPLES
to express relationships that are habitual (i.e. usually true): present + present EXAMPLE
If / When / Whenever I watch TV, I fall asleep.
to express results and implications: present + present EXAMPLE
If you smoke, the risk of your contracting heart disease increases.
to express a condition in the future: present + future EXAMPLE
If you study hard, you’ll pass the course.
to express unlikely but possible events: had + would/could EXAMPLES
PRESENT:     If I had more money, I would buy a better car. (had + would + base form)       PAST:     If I had gotten better grades, I would have entered another school. (past perfect + would + present perfect)
to express impossible events: were + would/should/could + present EXAMPLE
If I were you, I would study harder.
NOTE: Be careful of the difference between the modals should, would and could.        Which of the following indicate possibility and which indicate intention, but lack of ability?        Which of these sentences is INCORRECT?        Which sentence contains a polite request?
If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.CORRECT: This is a famous children’s prayer. It means If I happen to die … and indicates the possibility of dying.
If you would only stop that noise, I’ll do anything you ask.CORRECT: This sentence contains a polite request. We could also say:   If you would only stop that noise, I’d do anything you ask.
If I could have done it, I would have.CORRECT: We could also say:   If I could’ve done it, I would’ve. The expression could have done (called the conditional perfect) indicates the ability to do something. The addition of the conditional if here indicates the lack of ability to do it. Note that the final verb phrase has been ellipted (deleted):   If I could have done it, I would have [done it].
If I would have known you were going to do it, I would have stopped you. INCORRECT: The conditional perfect can only go in the then clause:   If I had known you were going to do it, [then] I would have stopped you.   If I’d known you were going to do it, [then] I would’ve stopped you.
Click here for the complete lyrics and answers.
The condition expressed in this song is an unlikely but possible event: had + would / could
Scarecrow: Oh, I’m a failure because I haven’t got a brain!       Dorothy: Well, what would you do with a brain if you had one?       S: Do? Why, if I had a brain, I could … I could while away the hours, conferring with the flowers, consulting with the rain.       And my head I’d be scratching while my thoughts were busy hatching if I only had a brain. I’d unravel every riddle for any individual in trouble or in pain.       D: With the thoughts you’ll be thinking, you’d be another Lincoln if you only had a brain.       S: Oh, I could tell you why the ocean’s near the shore. I could think of things I never thought before.       And then I’d sit, and think some more. I would not be just a nothing, my head all full of stuffing, my heart all full of pain.       I would dance and be merry, life would be a ding-a-derry if I only had a brain.       Gosh, it would be awful pleasing to reason out the reason of things I can’t explain. Then perhaps I’ll deserve you and be even worthy of you if I only had a brain.       D: Wonderful! Why, if our scarecrow back in Kansas could do that, the crows would be scared to pieces …
Fill in the blanks with the wordcouldorwouldand the correct form ofhave(Note: The standard spelling of the lyrics have been used below despite other sources using altered spelling, to reflect pronunciation is changed in order to rhyme). Use contractions where necessary:
Scarecrow: Oh, I’m a failure because I
had
have
haven’t
got a brain!       Dorothy: Well, what
could
would
you do with a brain if you
had
have
haven’t
one?       S: Do? Why, if I
had
have
haven’t
a brain, I
could
would
… I
could
would
while away the hours, conferring with the flowers, consulting with the rain.       And my head I’d be scratching while my thoughts were busy hatching if I only
had
have
haven’t
a brain. I’d unravel every riddle for any individual in trouble or in pain.       D: With the thoughts you’ll be thinking, you’d be another Lincoln if you only
had
have
haven’t
a brain.       S: Oh, I
could
would
tell you why the ocean’s near the shore. I
could
would
think of things I never thought before.       And then I’d sit, and think some more. I
could
would
not be just a nothing, my head all full of stuffing, my heart all full of pain.       I
could
would
dance and be merry, life
could
would
be a ding-a-derry if I only
had
have
haven’t
a brain.       Gosh, it
could
would
be awful pleasing to reason out the reason of things I can’t explain. Then perhaps I’ll deserve you and be even worthy of you if I only
had
have
haven’t
a brain.       D: Wonderful! Why, if our scarecrow back in Kansas
could
would
do that, the crows
could
would
be scared to pieces …
Which of the above conditions (a-f) are expressed in this song from the movie, The Wizard of Oz?
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Click here for the complete lyric and answers.
If a picture paints a thousand words, then why can’t I paint you? The words will never show the you I’ve come to know.       If a face could launch a thousand ships, then where am I to go? There’s no one home but you; you’re all that’s left me too.       And when my love for life is running dry, you come and pour yourself on me.       If a man could be two places at one time, I’d be with you – tomorrow and today – beside you all the way.       If the world should stop revolving, spinning slowly down to die, I’d spend the end with you.       And when the world was through, then one by one the stars will all go out,       Then you and I would simply fly away.
Fill in the blanks with the words can, could, would or should. Use contractions where necessary:
If a picture paints a thousand words, then why
can
can’t
could
couldn’t
should
shouldn’t
would
wouldn’t
I paint you? The words will never show the you I’ve come to know.       If a face
can
can’t
could
couldn’t
should
shouldn’t
would
wouldn’t
launch a thousand ships, then where am I to go? There’s no one home but you; you’re all that’s left me too.       And when my love for life is running dry, you come and pour yourself on me.       If a man
can
can’t
could
couldn’t
should
shouldn’t
would
wouldn’t
be two places at one time, I’d be with you – tomorrow and today – beside you all the way.       If the world
can
can’t
could
couldn’t
should
shouldn’t
would
wouldn’t
stop revolving, spinning slowly down to die, I’d spend the end with you.       And when the world was through, then one by one the stars will all go out,       Then you and I
can
can’t
could
couldn’t
should
shouldn’t
would
wouldn’t
simply fly away.
Several conditions are expressed in the following song. What are they? Pay special attention to the way the forms of would, could, can and should are used.
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NOTE: Conditions are sometimes expressed in the subjunctive mood (but they do not have to be).       See also:
if vs. wish
can vs. could and will vs. would
should vs. would
be vs. become
Remember to use Word Neighbors and other online resources to check how words are used in context!

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