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Athabasca University

Conditional and Hypothetical Constructions

Usage "If" clause verb form Main clause verb form
"If" event 'A' occurs then event 'B' happens*
Generally true simple present
e.g. If I feel hungry
simple present
I eat
True for the future simple present
e.g. If I feel hungry (later)
simple future
I will eat
Untrue now and future (hypothetical)
I am not hungry now, but this is what I would do if that were the case.
simple past
If I were hungry
would + verb name
I would eat
Untrue in the past (hypothetical)
I was not hungry in the past, but this is what I would have done if that were the case.
past perfect
If I had been hungry
would + present perfect
I would have eaten

* Clause order can be reversed. Event 'B' happens if event 'A' occurs, note the change in punctuation.

Conditionals

"If" is the most common word used to introduce adverbial clauses of condition (conditionals); other words that introduce these clauses are:

  • Constructions with 'if'; even if/only if
  • Unless (means except if . . .)
  • Whether or not
  • Providing/provided (that)
  • In case/in the event (that)

Hypothetical constructions

Usage Wish Clause
Wish + a noun clause simple present + (that)
e.g. I wish (that)
simple past
I had more of money.**
Generally true simple present + (that)
e.g. I wish (that)
simple past
I exercised more.
Statement referring to the past simple present
e.g. I wish (that)
past perfect
I had paid attention to the teacher.
A promise, certainty, possibility or ability simple present
e.g. I wish (that)
modal (would/could) + verb name
I would be a better student.
I could study more effectively.

** If the verb "be" is used, then to be formally correct use "were" in these constructions, e.g. I wish (that) I were rich. This usage is called the subjunctive.

Updated September 10 2014 by Student & Academic Services

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