TOEIC Grammar Guide – Conditionals
Conditionals are statements with an if clause. They show a result depending upon a set of conditions. The result can be very different because there are many ways that objects and actions can interact. The if clause controls what the result can be. Knowing the rules for if clauses let you understand how conditionals work. There are two kinds of conditional sentences: real and unreal. Each kind of conditional sentence has an if clause and a result (main) clause.
Identify whether the conditional is real or unreal. Then use the correct verb tense for both the if clause and the result clause.
II. Real Conditionals
Real conditionals express facts and what is absolute (completely true). They also express very likely or possible results, or state something that is done regularly.
I drive to work if it rains.
Condition: Is there rain? Yes. Or there will be rain for sure.
The if clause is true so it is a real condition.
Verb Tenses Used
The "if" clause is always written in the present tense. The result clause is written in the present or future tense.
1. Present tense verbs for both the result and if clause means the statement is true or a habit or a fact. Do not use helping verbs have, has, do, does plus the verb in the result clause.
The manager is always pleased if the employees work hard.
If water boils, it becomes a gas. (Incorrect: If water boils, it has become a gas.)
Exception: Statements of fact about something done regularly can be made in the past. Simple past tense for the if clause and result clause is used.
If we went out on the weekend, it was to go see a movie.
2. A statement of a true, future result has the future tense in the result clause. The future tense is will plus a verb infinitive.
If the boss approves, I will go on vacation next month.
We will attend the conference if we get our hotel reservations confirmed.
3. A statement of a possible future result has a helping verb plus the main verb in the result clause. Only the helping verbs may, might, can , could, and should are used.
If the shipment arrives soon, we might be able to fill our orders.
If the shipment arrives soon, we can fill our orders.
We should finish our orders tomorrow if the shipment arrives soon.
Condition: Will the shipment arrive soon? Maybe.
Result: Possible to get orders done.
III. Unreal Conditionals
Unreal conditionals express not true, very unlikely or not possible results.
If it had rained, I would have driven to work.
Condition: Is there rain? No, it did not rain.
The if clause did not happen so it is an unreal condition.
Verb Tenses Used
For a present unreal condition, the if clause is written in the past tense. The result clause contains would, could, or might plus a verb.
1. The verb in the if clause is not a form of the verb be.
If she owned the company, she would hire more people.
They could send him the contract if they found his address.
You might find the stapler if you looked in the bottom drawer.
2. When the verb in the if clause is a form of the verb be, it is always written as were, even for a singular subject.
Incorrect: If Mark was the boss, he would give everyone a raise.
Correct: If Mark were the boss, he would give everyone a raise.
(Mark is NOT the boss, so the condition is unreal.)
Incorrect: If I was you, I would complete the report quickly.
Correct: If I were you, I would complete the report quickly.
(I am NOT you, so the condition is unreal.)
Note: The unreal conditional is a type of subjunctive. So sometimes it is called subjunctive. The subjunctive mood is a verb form that shows a requirement, a wish, a suggestion, an uncertainty, or a condition opposite to known fact.
Example: If she were to get sick, her work would suffer.
Known fact: She is not sick now.
Unreal condition equals what is opposite to known fact: She is sick.
This sentence suggests what might happen, but it is not likely to happen.
3. For a past unreal condition, the if clause is written in the past perfect tense. The result clause is written with would, could, might, plus have plus a verb in the past tense:
They could have made more money if they had invested sooner.
If Michelle had become the sales representative, we would have had many new clients.
If you had listened at the meeting, you might have learned all about the new CEO.