Unit 34. If sentences (present / future)

A.
Compare these examples:

Tom: I think I left my lighter at your house. Have you seen it? Ann: No, but I’ll look. If I find it, I’ll give it to you.

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In this example there is a real possibility that Ann will find the lighter. So she says: “If I find… I’ll…” (see also Unit 9c).

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Ann: If I found a $100 bill on the street, I would keep it.

—-

This is a different type of situation. Ann is not thinking about a real possibility; she is imagining the situation. So she says: “If I found… I would…” (not “If I find … I’ll … “).

When you imagine a future happening like this, you use a past tense form (did/came/found, etc.) after if. But the meaning is not past:

  • What would you do if you won a million dollars?

  • If we didn’t go to their party next week, they would be very angry.

  • Ann wouldn’t lend me any money if I asked her.

    B.
    We do not normally use would in the if part of the sentence:

  • I’d be very frightened if someone pointed a gun at me. (not if someone would point)

  • If we didn’t go to their party next week, they would be angry, (not if we wouldn’t go)

    Sometimes it is possible to say ifwould, especially when you ask someone to do something in a formal way:

  • I would be very grateful if you would send me your brochure and price list as soon as possible, (from a formal letter)

    C.
    In the other part of the sentence (not the if part) we use would/wouldn’t. Would is often shortened to ‘d, especially in spoken English:

  • If you stopped smoking, you’d probably feel healthier.

  • They wouldn’t come to the party if you invited them. You can also use could and might:

  • They might be angry if I didn’t visit them. (= perhaps they would be)

  • If it stopped raining, we could go out. (= we would be able to go out)

    D.
    Do not use when in sentences like the ones in this unit:

  • Tom would be angry if I didn’t visit him. (not when I didn’t visit)

  • What would you do if you were bitten by a snake? (not when you were) See also Unit 9c.

    For if sentences see also Units 35 and 36.

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