Using IF: The Conditional in English

Learn when and how to use the conditional and hypothetical in English.


Use the conditional to talk about events that are possible within a real set of circumstances.


Use the hypothetical for discussion purposes and to talk about events that may or may not be possible within circumstances that may or may not be real.

In English, many but not all conditional and hypothetical sentences contain the word if.


Conditional: If I get the chance someday, I will finish college.

Interpretation: Finishing college may happen.


Hypothetical: If I could live my life over again, I would have finished college.

Interpretation: Finishing college is not going to happen.

 

Examples in Each Tense and Sense

Conditional past: If you had attended the show with me yesterday, I would have been happy. Interpretation: You did not attend the show with me yesterday and because of that, I was not happy.


Hypothetical past: If you were to have attended the show with me yesterday, I would have been happy. Interpretation: It may or may not have been possible for you to attend the show with me yesterday, but the idea is worthy as a point of discussion.

 

Conditional Future: If you attend the show with me tomorrow, I will be happy. Interpretation: Your attending the show with me tomorrow is possible, and if you do, I will be happy because of that.

Hypothetical Future: If you were to attend the show with me tomorrow, I would be happy. Interpretation: Your attending the show with me tomorrow may or may not be possible but even if impossible is worthy as a point of discussion.

 

The conditional and hypothetical present are a bit tricky because they mention the present but only to focus on future outcomes.