Conditional sentences can be tricky for the ESL student. People will understand you if you use the conditional incorrectly, but those who master it, speak with real polish.
The following is a guide to its usage, and some practice questions.
There are three words that are used for the conditional:
COULD – to be able WOULD – expresses intention SHOULD – duty
The conditional is used to ask politely for something:
I would like coffee, please.
It is used to express doubt, so is often preceded by an “if” clause: If I got home early I could help my mother.
It is used to express a duty to do something:
We shouldvisit my aunt in the hospital.
CONDITIONAL SENTENCES: UNTRUE FACTS IN THE PRESENT TENSE
CLAUSE: A clause is a group of words that has a subject and a verb.
Clause 1 I would meet her at 7:00
Clause 2 if she weren’t at work.
If the sentence is untrue at the time, use the past tense in the “if” clause.
“were” is used for both singular and plural in conditional sentences.
If I were rich, I would buy a new car. If I were a dog, I would chase cats.
CONDITIONAL SENTENCES: THE FUTURE TENSE
If the future tense “will” is used, put the “if clause” into the present tense.
I will tell him if I see him.
He will understand if I tell him.
The following is a story of long ago. It is full of conditional sentences. See if you can fill in the correct tense in the blanks.
Long ago, three hungry travelers were looking for a place to spend the night.
1st Traveler: “I think there’s a village up ahead.”
2nd Traveler: “I’m starving! If I had a cow I (to eat) _________________ it.
1st Traveler: “If wishes were horses, beggars (to ride) _______________.
2nd Traveler: “If there is a village ahead, maybe we (to get) ______________ something to eat.
Soon the travelers came to a small village.
3rd Traveler: “This looks like a nice place.”
2nd Traveler: “If they have some food, I (to be happy) _________________.
They ask the villagers for some food.
1st Traveler: “( to give) __________________ us something to eat?
1st Woman: “I’m sorry, sir! These are hard times! We hardly have enough for ourselves.
2nd Woman: “I’m sorry, we have had a hard winter.”
No one had food for the hungry travelers.
3rd Traveler: “We’ll make stone soup.”
1st Traveler: “Get a fire going and some water on to boil.”
2nd Traveler: “I’ll find a nice stone to put in it.”
The travelers built a fire and boiled a big pot of water with a stone in it. When the villagers saw this, they came and asked what they were making.
“Stone soup. It’s delicious!” came the answer.
“How could they make a good soup with just a stone?” the villagers asked. “It needs something more!”
1st Lady: ”I have a few old potatoes they (to have)__________________. We (give) _____________________ them something.”
2nd Lady: “Here are a couple of carrots they (to have)____________________.
And so the villagers brought little bits of food. Some brought a couple of vegetables, others brought a piece of meat or chicken. Soon the pot was full.
That night the weary travelers had a wonderful meal. They ate all the food they (to hold) _______________________. There was so much soup, they shared it with many of the poor villagers. Everyone who wanted it had a big bowl of stone soup.
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