Conditional Sentences: Concepts & Rules

Conditional sentences form an important part of English language. When you want to talk about a possible or not possible situation, and its consequences, you use a conditional clause.
What are Conditional Sentences?
Sentences having conditional clauses are called conditional sentences. A conditional sentence has an if-clause (conditional clause) and a main clause. The if-clause can come before or after a main clause. Normally, a comma is used after the if-clause when it comes before the main clause. Examples:
  • If the weather is fine, they will play the match.
  • They will play the match if the weather is fine.
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Types of conditional clauses
There are three types of conditional clauses:
  1. Open conditional clauses
  2. Hypothetical conditional clauses
  3. Conditional clauses with unfulfilled conditions of past
Open Conditional Clauses
In this type of clause, the given condition may or may not be fulfilled. It is an open future condition. The verb in the conditional clause is in present tense while the verb in the main clause is in future tense. The open conditional sentences follow the following pattern:
If/ even if/in case/unless + present simple + .. can/will/shall/may/might/must + base of the verb
Examples of open conditional sentences:
  • If you call me, I shall come.
  • I shall take an umbrella in case it rains.
  • If I have time, I shall come to your house.
  • If you drop the glass, it might break.
Note that if you talk of a common occurrence, you use a simple present/present continuous tense in both the conditional and main clause. E.g. If a tap is leaking, it needs a new washer. Also, in case of a request, ‘would’ and ‘will’ are used.
Hypothetical Conditional Clauses
This type of clause contains a condition that is improbable and unlikely to be fulfilled. The hypothetical conditional clauses follow the following pattern:
If/unless/even if/if only + simple past + .., .. would
Examples of hypothetical conditional sentences:
  • If I had ten lakh rupees, I would buy a car.
  • f I were you, I would challenge him. (‘were’ is used in hypothetical sentences instead of ‘was’)
  • It would be awful if you lost your ticket.
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Conditional clauses with unfulfilled conditions of past
These clauses contain a condition that was not fulfilled in the past. In such conditional clauses, the past perfect form of verb is used.
Examples of Conditional clauses with unfulfilled conditions:
  • If you had been there, I would have seen you.
  • If we had taken your advice, we would have saved time.
  • If I had bought a ticket yesterday, I might have won a prize.
The above three types of conditional clauses form the basis of conditional sentences.