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Unreal Conditionals

The Second Conditional


The Second Conditional refers to an unreal (or very unlikely) situation in the
PRESENT time. The most confusing thing about the second conditional is that
e use the P!ST TENSE in the "if" clause# even though e$re referring to the
PRESENT% Consider the folloing e&am'les(
) am very busy (and very broke). !s )$m sitting here in front of my
com'uter# )$m thinking about taking a tri' to South !merica. )t ould be
really nice to go to the air'ort and get on a 'lane right no. *oever# this
is com'letely im'ossible% ) can e&'ress this by saying# ")f ) had the time# )
ould go to South !merica." () could also say# ")f ) had the money# )
ould go to South !merica.")
+y friend ,ohn is alays talking about ho e&'ensive restaurants are.
*e never goes to the grocery store and his kitchen cu'boards are alays
em'ty. -ne day he starts com'laining again. ) say# ",ohn# if you learned
ho to cook# you ouldn$t need to eat out all the time." ()t is highly
unlikely that ,ohn ill learn ho to cook.)
-kay# no that you understand that the P!ST TENSE in the "if" clause refers to
the PRESENT time# there is one other rule you should be aare of. (.ou ill
hear native s'eakers break this rule# but you should use it/es'ecially in formal
s'eech and formal riting.) )f the main verb in the "if" clause is "be#" e use
"ere" ith !00 sub1ects# including first and third 'erson singular. (This is the
sub1unctive mood.) Consider the folloing e&am'les(
")f ) ere rich# ) ould travel around the orld." (2NRE!0( )$m not rich.)
")f ) ere President# ) ould give everyone free health care." (-bviously
2NRE!0( )$m not President.)
")f ) ere you# ) ould study hard." (-bviously 2NRE!0( )$m not you.)
")f Na'oleon ere alive today# he ould be fighting a ar." (2NRE!0(
Na'oleon is dead.)
")f my brother ere here# he ould buy me a beer." (2NRE!0( +y
brother is in Costa Rica.)

The Third Conditional
The Third Conditional refers to an unreal situation in the P!ST. )n other ords# it
refers to something that did N-T ha''en in the 'ast# though maybe it as once
an o'tion. The most confusing thing about the third conditional is that e use
the P!ST PER3ECT in the "if" clause# even though e$re referring to the P!ST.
Consider the folloing e&am'les(
+y friend 0i4 likes this guy named ,oe. 0ast eek ) had a 'arty. ,oe
came to my 'arty. 0i4$s 'arents ere in ton so she ent out to dinner
ith them. She did not come to the 'arty. ) tell her# "Too bad. )f you had
come to the 'arty# you ould have seen ,oe."
) took three eeks off ork in ,anuary. Since ) didn$t get 'aid for my time
off# ) don$t have any e&tra money right no. ) can e&'ress this by saying#
")f ) hadn$t taken that time off# ) ould have more money."
(No that you kno the rule for the third conditional# you should be aare that
native s'eakers ill sometimes break this rule. )n informal conversation 'eo'le
might say# ")f you ould have gone to +e&ico# you ould have a tan.")