The Unreal Conditional

Present Unreal Conditional



The present unreal conditional is used to express a present (or future) condition. We call it unreal because it tells us what would happen or how things would be if the situation were different:

  • I don't have a car. I don't visit you often.
  • If I had a car, I would visit you often.


The present unreal conditional is made up of an if-clause (if I had...) plus a main clause with would (I would visit).

  • You work so hard. You're tired all the time.
  • If you didn't work so hard, you wouldn't be tired all the time.

  • Fur coats are so expensive. I don't have one.
  • If they weren't so expensive, I would have one.


The form of the verb in the if-clause is the same as the past tense form of the verb. There is one exception, though: the verb be takes were for all persons:

I am / if I were

You are / if you were

He is / if he were.

  • If I were you, I would be more careful.
  • If you were leaving earlier, I would go with you.
  • What time would we get there if we took the subway?


Past Unreal Conditional



The past unreal conditional consists of two clauses, an if clause and a would clause.

The if-clause refers to an unreal past event or condition:

  • If I had arrived on time... (I didn't)
  • If it hadn't rained yesterday... (it did)


The would clause describes the consequence:

  • ...I wouldn't have missed the train.
  • ...we would have gone to the beach.


  • It wasn't warm yesterday. We didn't go to the beach.
  • If it had been warm yesterday, we would have gone to the beach.


An unreal past condition may have a consequence in either the present or the past.

  • If you had listened to my advice, you wouldn't be in trouble now. (now)
  • If it had rained an hour ago, we would have stayed inside.
  • If it had rained an hour ago, the streets would be wet. (now)

 

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