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What If? Conditional Clauses

  • June 27, 2011
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Conditional sentences in English are used to show the results of an action or to give instructions and are easy to use.

Composition of Conditional Sentences
Conditional sentences are created from two clauses. In the “conditional clause”, a condition is stated, and the result is expressed in the “main clause”. In the following examples, they are separated by a comma:

“If you build it, they will come.”
“If I had a hammer, I’d hammer in the morning.”
“If you read this article, you will understand conditional clauses.”

The word “if” is most often used, but there are other possibilities:

“Had I known about the skunk’s defensive weapons, I would not have hugged it.”
“Were the tomatoes fresh, they would not have squished when you tried to cut them.”
“When Frankie calls, sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to him.”

When the main clause comes before the conditional clause, the comma is no longer needed:

“I will walk your dog for you unless it bites.”
“We will all wish we were ducks if this rain keeps coming down.”
“You probably wouldn’t read this if you already understood conditional clauses.”

First, Second, and Third Conditional
First through third conditionals have to do with tense. To illustrate them, let’s return to an earlier example:

First conditional: “If I have a hammer, I will hammer in the morning.”
Second conditional: “If I had a hammer, I would hammer in the morning.”
Third conditional: “If I had had a hammer, I would have hammered in the morning.”

Errors in Conditional Sentences

“If you want a puppy, we have several collies.”
“If you are new here, there are fresh blueberry muffins in the break room every morning.”
“If you have any problems, my name is Phyllis.”

This is an error that is rampant, but it is not always easy to recognize, so read them through a few times if you do not see it right away. In conversation, statements like these can whiz past without the listener noticing, but when they are read, the error is easier to spot. In the first statement, that family with the puppies has those puppies whether you want one or not, and in the second, there are blueberry muffins in the break room whether you are new or not. The third is the most common example, and it is the most obvious. Just like in the first two, the woman’s name is Phyllis whether you have problems or not. Here are the same sentences after a thorough cleaning:

“If you want a puppy, you can get a collie from us.”
“If you are new here, you will be delighted to learn that there are fresh blueberry muffins in the break room every morning.”
“If you have any problems, come find me. My name is Phyllis.”

Conditional clauses are sometimes called an “if” clause, but there are other words that can be used when constructing a conditional sentence. Besides those mentioned above, can you think of any others?

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