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Dr Grammar

tenses sequence & conditional

Posted by peter   24 Dec 2013 11 42 am

Hi Alex,

First of all, Merry Christmas! :)

This time I come across a confusion of using verb tenses in sentences with multiple clauses. A bit long question...

What confused me in this point in time is the possible verb tenses of the Dependent Clause (DC) when the Independent Clause (IC) is in future tense... (Besides future, I don't manage to use other tenses well yet...)

e.g. You will surely pass this exam if you studied hard. (IC -> future; DC -> past)
(source 1 -

This sentense is not only a Complex Sentense but also a Conditional Sentense.

Then I read this link:
(source 2 -

This link suggests that:
Present Tenses are used in the if-clause, and Future Tenses are used in the main clause for Future Real Conditional;
Past Tenses are used in the if-clause, but "would + verb" are used in the main clause for Future Unreal Conditional.

The following difference confused me...
ID -> future; DC -> past (source 1)
ID -> would+verb; DC -> past (source 2)

Am I missing something?
Any hints or references to self-study materials are appreciated!

Great Thanks!

Posted by alex stringer   2 Jan 2014 11 58 am

Hi Peter

Apologies for the delay in replying - I've been out of HK with a limited internet connection.

You will surely pass this exam if you studied hard
This combination of tenses is not possible. I think you've misread the notes on, or you have posted the wrong link - your two sources, 1 and 2, are the same:

The notes on are quite correct. An 'if' sentence with a past tense is either a zero (generally true) or second (unreal) conditional.

Your example should read: You will surely pass this exam if you study hard (real, future) or: You would sure pass this exam if you studied hard (unreal - you don't study hard - future).

Yes, a conditional sentence is a type of complex sentence.

Dependent clauses can use present and present perfect tenses to show future time when the independent clause uses a future form (will, be going to etc.) or contains some kind of request.

If I see Sarah, I'll give her your message.
When I get home, I'm going to have a shower.
When you've finished painting the kitchen, you'll need to do the bathroom.
If you're ready by 12, give me a call.
As soon as you've replied to Michael, I'd like you to look at these figures.


Posted by peter   4 Jan 2014 12 08 am

Oh yes, sorry... I've posted an incorrect link... it should be

source 2:

the example sentence "You will surely pass this exam if you studied hard." is in the second row of Future (red text)

... according to what you said, it seems the materials in source 2 is unreliable?
actually i do refer to this website quite often ... :(

Posted by alex stringer   7 Jan 2014 10 34 am

Hi Peter

OK, so this is a mixed real conditional; out of context these can be confusing. By 'mixed', I mean that the condition (dependent) clause refers to real events in the past and the result (independent) clause refers to the future.

So in this example the speaker is talking to a student between the time the student revised (studied) and the time s/he takes the exam. (In British English, a present perfect might be more natural for the first clause, although we can't be sure as we don't know the context).

The sentence is possible, but I don't think much of the explanations on this page; I prefer your other source, Englishpage.

I should also add that I am sceptical of the value of 'sentence grammar' (although I often end up teaching it!). Full meaning is rarely contained in one sentence alone.

I would also beware of the idea that there is a set of sentence patterns based on some innate logic that you can learn and apply to whatever you want to say. It's more complex than that. In my experience, successful language learners tend to downplay the importance of grammar. Not to say it doesn't have its place, but don't expect too much from it.



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