Future Real Conditional
[If / When ... Simple Present ..., ... Simple Future ...]
[... Simple Future ... if / when ... Simple Present ...]
Notice that there is no future in the if- or when-clause.
The Future Real Conditional describes what you think you will do in a specific situation in the future. It is different from other Real Conditional forms because, unlike the present or the past, you do not know what will happen in the future. Although this form is called "real", you are usually imagining or guessing about the future. It is called "real" because it is still possible that the action might occur in the future. Carefully study the following examples and compare them to the Future Unreal Conditional examples further down the page.
IMPORTANT If / When
Both "if" and "when" are used in the Future Real Conditional, but the use is different from other Real Conditional forms. In the Future Real Conditional, "if" suggests that you do not know if something will happen or not. "When" suggests that something will definitely happen at some point; we are simply waiting for it to occur. Notice also that the Simple Future is not used in if-clauses or when-clauses.
Future Unreal Conditional
FORM 1 (Most Common Form)
[If ... Simple Past ..., ... would + verb ...]
[... would + verb ... if ... Simple Past ...]
Notice that this form looks the same as Present Unreal Conditional.
The Future Unreal Conditional is used to talk about imaginary situations in the future. It is not as common as the Future Real Conditional because English speakers often leave open the possibility that anything MIGHT happen in the future. It is only used when a speaker needs to emphasize that something is impossible. Because this form looks like Present Unreal Conditional, many native speakers prefer Form 2 described below.
[If ... were + present participle ..., ... would be + present participle ...]
[... would be + present participle ... if ... were + present participle ...]
Form 2 of the Future Unreal Conditional is also used to talk about imaginary situations in the future. Native speakers often prefer this form over Form 1 to emphasize that the conditional form is in the future rather than the present. Also notice in the examples below that this form can be used in the if-clause, the result, or both parts of the sentence.
[If ... were going to + verb ..., ... would be + present participle ...]
[... would be + present participle ... if ... were going to + verb ...]
Form 3 of the Future Unreal Conditional is a variation of Form 2 which is also used to talk about imaginary situations in the future. Notice that this form is only different from Form 2 in the if-clause. Native speakers use Form 3 to emphasize that the conditional form is a plan or prediction in the same way "be going to" is used to indicate a plan or prediction.
IMPORTANT Only use "If"
Only the word "if" is used with the Past Unreal Conditional because you are discussing imaginary situations. "When" cannot be used.
EXCEPTION Conditional with Modal Verbs
There are some special conditional forms for modal verbs in English:
would + can = could
would + shall = should
would + may = might
The words "can," "shall" and "may" cannot be used with "would." Instead, they must be used in these special forms.
The words "could," should," "might" and "ought to" include conditional, so you cannot combine them with "would."
Future Real Conditional vs. Future Unreal Conditional
To help you understand the difference between the Future Real Conditional and the Future Unreal Conditional, compare the examples below:
EXERCISES AND RELATED TOPICS