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The Mechanics Of Conditional Sentences: Zero To Third Conditionals

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Conditional Sentences, Sentence Structures

The Mechanics Of Conditional Sentences — According to the tenth edition of the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, a conditional is a clause or sentence which begins with ‘if’ or ‘unless’, and expresses a condition. However, this week’s treatise will expatiate upon conditionals that encompass ‘if’.

Moving on, it is pertinent to note that every conditional statement comprises two parts. The initial part, which embodies ‘if’, portrays a possible situation, whereas the subsequent part expresses the consequence of the feasible circumstance. For instance:

If it rains heavily (first part; describing a possible situation), we will get drenched (second part; portraying the consequence).

Sometimes, a conditional statement can be inverted such that the part which contains ‘if’ comes second, while the consequence-portraying part comes first, as stated below:

We will get drenched (consequence) if it rains heavily (situation).

With that being said, I shall proceed to the types of conditionals and their corresponding structures.

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Mechanics Of Conditional

A) THE ZERO CONDITIONAL

In concise terms, the zero conditional emphasises permanent truths, including scientific facts and general habits. This is achieved through ‘if… + present tense + present tense’, without adding modal verbs like ‘will’, ‘can’ or ‘may’. Consider the ensuing example sentences.

If you heat water to 100⁰ Celsius, it boils (standard).
If you heat water to 100⁰ Celsius, it will boil (non-standard).
If it does not rain for a very long time, the earth gets very dry (scientific truth; standard).
If you eat a lot, you put on weight (standard).
If John is exhausted, he goes to bed early (standard; a general habit).
If I go out with my family, we normally visit my friend, Eunice (standard; a general habit).

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B) THE FIRST CONDITIONAL

We deploy the first conditional to express realistic situations or real possibilities in the present or future. To consummately construct this conditional, use:
If… + present tense + will/can/must + present tense
If she sees Desmond, she will disclose the information to him (standard).
If she sees Desmond, she would disclose the information to him (non-standard)
If I do my homework on time, I can come to the playground (standard).
If I do my homework on time, I could come to the playground (non-standard).
If Titilayo buckles down, she will sail through the tests (standard).
If Titilayo buckles down, she would sail through the tests (non-standard).
If you give Paul a pay rise, he will not quit the job (standard).

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Nevertheless, if the statement in the first conditional is imperative, you can dispense with ‘can’, ‘must’ and ‘will’, as mentioned below:
If you fall ill, call the doctor (standard; an imperative statement).
If you want the money, stay in the queue and wait your turn (standard; an imperative statement)

C) THE SECOND CONDITIONAL

We use the second conditional to discuss unlikely or improbable circumstances in the present or future. The formula is rendered thus:

If… + past tense + would/could + present tense

If you won £10,000, what would you buy for me (standard)?
If you won £10,000, what will you buy for me (non-standard)?
If I had a private jet, I would travel to the United Arab Emirates (standard)
If I had a private jet, I will travel to the United Arab Emirates (non-standard).
You would not trek, if you owned a car (standard).
You will not trek, if you owned a vehicle (non-standard).
What would she do, if she were given a lucrative job on the continent of Europe (standard)?
If you were the governor, you could do things differently (standard).
If you were the governor, you can do things differently (non-standard).

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D) THE THIRD CONDITIONAL

The third and final conditional underscores impossible or improbable situations that are in the past. This should not be confused with the second conditional, which portrays implausible situations in the present or future. The formula for piecing the third conditional together is rendered hereunder:

If… + had + past participle + would have/could have + past participle.
This is well adduced in the accompanying example sentences:
If Moses had gone to university, he would have become a better individual (standard).
If Moses had gone to university, he would become a better individual (non-standard).
If Moses had gone to university, he will have become a better individual (non-standard).
If Moses had gone to university, he will become a better individual (non-standard).
If we had woken up much earlier, we would have arrived at the venue on time (standard).
She would not have been upset if you had not forgotten about her birthday (standard).
Mustapha would not have studied in the UK if he had not passed the professional examination with flying colours (standard).

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If your teacher had taught otherwise, you could not have been right (standard).
If your teacher had taught otherwise, you cannot have been right (non-standard).
At times, we use the third conditional to express regret or mention how real moments in the past could have been different.

If she had heeded her teacher’s advice, she would not have failed (standard).
His predicament could not have been worse if his mother had not passed on (standard).
Conditional sentences have received less attention in several discussions bordering on English grammar. Thankfully, this treatise avails the readership an exposition into this significant aspect of grammar, which adds finesse to language use in both spoken and written forms.

©2021 Ganiu Abisoye Bamgbose (Dr GAB)
Department of English,
Lagos State University

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