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Continuous Conditionals

Those of you who have studied Englishpage.com's Verb Tense Tutorial should be familiar with continuous verb tenses such as Present Continuous, Past Continuous, Future Continuous, Present Perfect Continuous, Past Perfect Continuous, and Future Perfect Continuous. The Verb Tense Tutorial gives you all the information you need to create continuous Real Conditional sentences. But many English learners are not aware of the fact that we can use continuousness in imaginary situations as well. Study the examples below to learn how to create continuous Unreal Conditional sentences that will make you sound like a native speaker.

Present Unreal Conditional + Continuous

FORM

If-clause: [were + present participle]

Result: [would be + present participle]

USE

Present Unreal Conditional + Continuous is used to discuss imaginary situations which could be happening at this very moment.

Examples in the if-clause:

  • If the sun were shining, I would go to the beach.
    Unfortunately, it is raining so I can't go.
  • If Sam were sitting here, we would be able to ask him the question ourselves.
    But Sam is not sitting here. He is somewhere else.
  • We would be able to go sailing if the wind were blowing.
    But there is no wind, so we can't go sailing.

Examples in the result:

  • If I were in Hawaii, I would be lying on the beach.
    But I am not in Hawaii.
  • If my grandfather were here, he would be talking about the war.
    But he is not here.
  • I would be rafting down the Colorado River right now if my leg weren't broken.
    But my leg is broken, so I am not there.

Past Unreal Conditional + Continuous

FORM

If-clause: [had been + present participle]

Result: [would have been + present participle]

USE

Past Unreal Conditional + Continuous is used to discuss imaginary situations happening at a very specific time in the past or over a period of time in the past.

Examples in the if-clause:

  • If I had been talking to him when he said that, I would have punched him in the face.
    But I wasn't talking to him when he said that.
  • If he had been standing near the house when the wall collapsed, it would have killed him.
    Luckily, he moved away before the wall fell.

Examples in the result:

  • If you had gone to his house last night, he would have been sitting on his couch in front of the TV.
    But you didn't go to his house, so you didn't see what he was doing.
  • If she had missed her train, he would have been waiting for her at the station for hours.
    Luckily, she caught her train and he didn't have to wait.
NOTICE that the Past Unreal Conditional + Continuous can be used like the Past Continuous in imaginary situations to emphasize interruptions or parallel actions in the past.

Examples in the if-clause:

  • If James had been crossing the street when the car ran the red light, it would have hit him.
  • If Tom had been studying while Becky was making dinner, he would have finished his homework early and they could have gone to the movie.

Examples in the result:

  • If James hadn't stopped to tie his shoe, he would have been crossing the street when the car ran the red light.
  • If you had gone to their house last night, Bob would have been reading the newspaper, Nancy would have been talking on the phone and the kids would have been watching TV. They always do the same things.

NOTICE that Past Unreal Conditional + Continuous can also be used like Present Perfect Continuous or Past Perfect Continuous in imaginary situations to emphasize a duration of time.

Examples in the if-clause:

  • Scott said he had been studying Greek for more than five years. If he had been studying the language that long, I think he would have been able to interpret for us at the airport.
  • Sarah claimed she had been waiting in the rain for more than twenty minutes by the time we arrived, but she wasn't even wet. If she had been waiting that long, I think she would have been totally drenched by the time we arrived.

Examples in the result:

  • Terry's plane arrived ahead of schedule. If I hadn't decided to go to the airport early, she would have been waiting there for more than twenty minutes before I arrived.
  • At the travel agency yesterday, I waited for more than an hour for somebody to help me. Finally, I got up and left. If I hadn't decided to leave, I would have been sitting there forever.

Future Unreal Conditional + Continuous

FORM

If-clause: [were + present participle]

Result: [would be + present participle]

USE

Future Unreal Conditional + Continuous can be used like the Future Continuous in imaginary situations to emphasize interruptions or parallel actions in the future.

NOTICE The future form looks the same as the present form. The future is indicated with words such as "tomorrow," "next week" or "in a couple of days."

Examples in the if-clause:

  • If I were waiting there next week when he gets off the plane, he would be totally surprised.
    But I will not be waiting there, so he won't be surprised.
  • If he were staying in that hotel next week while the conference is being held, he might be able to meet some of the key speakers and tell them about our new product.
    I don't think he will be able to stay at the hotel, so he won't be able to meet anybody there.

Examples in the result:

  • If I were able to go to the train station tonight to meet Sandra, I would be standing on the platform waiting for her when she arrives.
    I won't be able to go to the train station, so I will not be standing there when she arrives.
  • If you went over to Paul's house after work, he would probably be sitting there at his computer surfing the Internet.
    But you won't go over.

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