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asked Apr 8, 2022 in Questions about English Grammar by mycheun68 (160 points)
edited Apr 8, 2022 by mycheun68 | 861 views

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Zero conditional sentences refer to a general truth that is always considered to be true or unchallenged. Both the if-clause and the main clause use the habitual tense. The habitual present tense is a simple, unmarked form of the English verb. 

(a) “If you heat ice, it melts.”  

Zero conditional sentences do not have a specified event time since the result would always be the same regardless of when the described situation occurs. For example, (a) refers to a scientific fact that ice melts when it is heated. Thus, no matter when the ice is heated, it would always melt. In this case, it is suitable for the habitual tense to be used in both clauses since it can describe an event or state that always occurs or timeless events with an unspecified event time.

First conditional sentences refer to a real possible situation and its possible result. The present simple tense is used in the if-clause and the modal auxiliary “will” is used in the main clause.

(b) “If you get up late, you will miss the bus.”

Since the if-clause refers to possible events in the future, there is a possibility that the described event would not happen in the future. In example (b), it is still possible that the hearer will get up early. Therefore, instead of directly using the future tense, it is more suitable to use the [if + present simple] structure in the if-clause in which “if” shows the possibility, and the bare verb put after the conjunction “if” refers to future situations. 

The main clause states the result of the possible event described in the if-clause. For example in (b), “miss the bus” is the result of the possible event “get up late”. Thus, it would be suitable to use the future tense marker “will” since the described result will definitely occur if the possible event happens.

Second conditional sentences refer to situations that are unreal or very unlikely to happen. The past simple tense is used in the if-clause and the modal auxiliary “would” is mainly used in the main clause.

 (c) “If I were you, I would tell him the truth.”

Since the if-clause refers to the unreal or unlikely events, it would be suitable to use the past simple tense as the unreal past. The past tense can be used as the unreal past to distance people from what is being written or spoken, creating a hypothetical and imaginary sense of the described event. In example (c), “were” is used as the unreal past to mark the unrealistic and imaginary event of “I” becoming “you”, which can never happen. 

The main clause states the probable result of the hypothetical situation in the if-clause. In (c), “I tell him the truth” is the possible result if “I” became “you”, which is just an imagination. Thus, the result is very unlikely to happen in the future. In this case, it is suitable to use the modal auxiliary “would” since it can be used to express irrealis modality. Irrealis modality is used to make non-factual or non-actual statements. The main clause is an irrealis statement since the described probable results refer to unlikely future possibilities and are not based on actual situations. When “would” is used to refer to the possibility of the speaker’s intention, it has a future-projecting sense and does not refer to actual past events. Thus, it can be used to express irrealis modality, making it suitable for the main clause. 

answered Apr 8, 2022 by mycheun68 (160 points)

Third conditional sentences refer to impossible conditions in the past and their probable results. The past perfect tense is used in the if-clause and the [would + have + past participle] structure is used in the main clause. 

(d) “If I had worked harder I would have passed the exam.”

Third conditional sentences are hypothetical and unreal since the event has already ended in the past and it is too late for the described event to happen and its probable result to exist. The if-clause states another possibility of a past event. For example in (d), the presupposition is that the speaker had failed the exam. The if-clause refers to another measure the speaker could have taken before the exam. In this case, the past perfect can be used to state another possibility of a past event. The past perfect aspect expresses a completed action or an event accomplished in the past before the speech time. Thus, it is suitable to use the past perfect tense in the if-clause to emphasize the completed sense of the described event. 

The main clause refers to the possible result if the described event in the if-clause occurred in the past. Since past events are not changeable, the probable result in the main clause is only the speaker’s imagination and is impossible to occur. In (d), the main clause states the possible result of “passing the exam” if the speaker had worked harder, which he/she did not do so in the past. Thus, it is impossible for the proposed result of “working harder” to happen. In this case, it is suitable to use the [would + have + past participle] structure. First, it would be suitable to use the modal auxiliary “would” to express the irrealis sense of the third conditional sentence. Also, the speaker’s wish for a change in prior events in the sentence shows a sense of anteriority. This can be expressed by the use of the perfect aspect which uses the [have + past participle] structure. Moreover, the combination of  “would” and the perfect aspect can express the counter-factual sense of the sentence in which the described event and result are different from the actual past event, making the structure suitable for the main clause. 

It can thus be observed that different tenses are used in different “if” conditional types in order to match their different functions. 

Reference:

EF: Global site. (2022, January 31). Conditionals in english- type 0, 1, 2, & 3 - bespeaking! Learn English Online- Bespeaking! Retrieved March 25, 2022, from https://www.bespeaking.com/conditionals-in-english/

Englishstudy. (2019, October 6). If clauses - type 1. English Study Page. Retrieved March 25, 2022, from https://englishstudypage.com/grammar/if-clauses-type-1/

Englishstudy. (2019, October 6). If clauses - type 3. English Study Page. Retrieved March 25, 2022, from https://englishstudypage.com/grammar/if-clauses-type-3/

Givón, Talmy. (1993). English Grammar: A Functional-based Introduction, vol. 1. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company. 

Thomson, Martinet, & Martinet, A. V. (1991).  A practical English grammar (4th ed., [rev.]), 253. Oxford, [England] ; New York: Guild Pub.

Salsbury, T., & Indiana University. (2000). The acquisitional grammaticalization of unreal conditionals and modality in l2 english: a longitudinal perspective, 178.

How to use the unreal past - the english bureau. (n.d.). Retrieved March 25, 2022, from https://www.theenglishbureau.com/blog/unreal-past/?ak_action=reject_mobile

EF: Global site. (n.d.). Conditional. Retrieved March 25, 2022, from  https://www.ef.com/wwen/english-resources/english-grammar/conditional/

Celce-Murcia, M., Larsen-Freeman, D., & Williams, H. A. (1999). The grammar book: an ESL/EFL teacher's course (2nd ed.), 551. Boston: Heinle & Heinle.

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