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Special Types of Clauses: “If” Clauses

The “if” clause (also called a conditional clause) is a common structure in English sentences. An “if” clause indicates that if a certain condition is fulfilled, some other action will occur. If is sometimes paired with then. (If x, then y.) But even when then is not stated, the cause-effect relationship is understood.

  • If you had listened to me, then you would have known what to do.
  • If it keeps raining, we will postpone the game.
  • If I had been there, I could have helped you.

Sentences with “if” clauses often include modal auxiliaries, such as would, could, or might, or subjunctive verbs.

  • If I were (subjunctive) a movie star, I would (modal) live in Beverly Hills.

The tense of the verb in the “if” clause affects the tense of the verb in the clause that follows it. Common patterns are:

  • “if” clause = simple present
  • “then” clause = simple present

If you make a nice sauce for it, yak is delicious.

  • “if” clause = simple present
  • “then” clause = simple future

If you study, you will pass the exam.

  • “if” clause = simple past
  • “then” clause = modal auxiliary base form

If a teacher discovered their cheating, they could be suspended.

  • “if” clause = past perfect
  • “then” clause = modal auxiliary + have + past participle

If Jill had been there, everything might have been different.

  • “if” clause = subjunctive
  • “then” clause = modal auxiliary + base form

If she were smart, she would start her research right now.

Sentences with “if” clauses can also issue commands.

  • “if” clause = simple present
  • “then” clause = imperative
  • If you go to the store, buy an extra gallon of milk.

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