Past Conditional Sentences




Past Conditional Sentences :


Conditional sentences show great variety of form. But it is easy to classify them according to the time of the supposed case and the degree of doubt that the speaker expresses.

Conditions may be present, past or future.

Present and Past Conditions

Present and past conditions may be either (1) non-committal or (2) contrary to fact.

1. A condition is non-committal when it implies nothing as to the truth or falsity of the case supposed.

1. If James is angry, I am sorry. [Perhaps James is angry, perhaps not.]

2. A condition is contrary to fact when it implies that the supposed case is not or was not true.

2. If James were angry, I should be sorry. [James is not angry.]

In a non-committal present condition, the if-clause takes the present indicative and in a non-committal past condition, the past, the perfect or the pluperfect.

The conclusion may be in any form that the sense allows.

Present Condition - Non-Committal

3. If this pebble is a diamond, {it is valuable. | guard it carefully. | you have made a great discovery. | you will get a large sum for it. | why are you so careless of it? | what a prize it is!}

4. If it is raining, shut the window.

5. If Jack lives in this house, {he is a lucky boy. | ring the bell. | he has moved since last May.}

Past Condition - Non-Committal

1. If that pebble was a diamond, {it was valuable. | why did you throw it away? | go back and look for it.}

2. If Tom has apologized, {he has done his duty. | you ought to excuse him. | forgive him.}

3. If John had reached home before we started, he must have made a quick journey.

In each of these examples, the speaker declines to commit himself as to the truth of the supposed case. Perhaps the pebble was a diamond, perhaps not; Tom may or may not have apologized; whether or not John had reached home, we cannot tell.

In a condition contrary to fact, the if-clause takes the past subjunctive when the condition refers to present time, the pluperfect subjunctive when it refers to past time.

The conclusion regularly takes should or would.

1. If John were here, I should recognize him. [Present condition, present conclusion.]

2. If John were here, I should have recognized him before this. [Present condition, past conclusion.]

3. If I had offended him, I should have regretted it. [Past condition, past conclusion.]

4. If I had then offended him, I should regret it now. [Past condition, present conclusion.]

In each of these sentences, the speaker distinctly implies that the supposed case (or condition) is (or was) not a fact. It follows, of course, that the conclusion is not a fact:—John is not here; therefore I do not recognize him.

In conditions contrary to fact, the subjunctive without if is common. In this use, the subject follows the verb.

1. Were he my friend, I should expect his help. [= If he were my friend. Present condition, contrary to fact.]

2. Had he been my friend, I should have expected his help. [= If he had been my friend. Past condition, contrary to fact.]

3. Note. In older English, the subjunctive may be used in both clauses: as,—“He were no lion, were not Romans hinds" (Shakespeare).

Future Conditions

Future conditions always imply doubt, for no one can tell what may or may not happen to-morrow.

In all future conditions, some verb-form denoting future time is used in both clauses.

In a future condition which suggests nothing as to the probability or improbability of the case supposed, the present indicative is regularly used in the if-clause, and the future indicative in the conclusion.

1. If it rains to-morrow, I shall not go.

In very formal or exact language a verb-phrase with shall may be used in the if-clause: as,—“If it shall rain to-morrow, I shall not go."

The present subjunctive is sometimes used in the if-clause. This form commonly suggests more doubt than the present indicative.

2. If it rain to-morrow, I shall not go.

In a future condition which puts the supposed case rather vaguely, often with a considerable suggestion of doubt, a verb-phrase with should or would is used in both clauses.

3. If it should rain to-morrow, I should not go.

A phrase with were to may replace the should-phrase in the if-clause. This form often emphasizes the suggestion of doubt.

4. If it were to rain to-morrow, I should not go.

The past subjunctive may stand in the if-clause instead of the should-phrase.

5. If it rained to-morrow, I should not go.

Note : The comparative amount of doubt implied in the different kinds of future conditions cannot be defined with precision….for it varies with the circumstances or the context, and often depends on emphasis or the tone of the voice. Thus, in “if it should rain to-morrow," should may be so emphasized as to make the supposed case seem highly improbable, whereas an emphasis on to-morrow would have a very different effect. As to the subjunctive, its use is often due rather to the writer’s liking for that mood than to any special doubt in his mind.


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