This post, and the next, will look at specific ways in which tense can be arranged to create mixed conditionals.
As we said before, mixed conditionals allow us to use language to travel between the past, present, and future.
In this post, we will look at present conditionals, where the speaker travels back into the past to ask how the present might be different.
If only I had…
Present conditionals contain at least two clauses. One clause contains an “if” statement and a verb in past perfect tense. The second, main clause, makes a statement as a present conditional.
Consider the following sentences:
- “If I had exercised more, I could lift that car.”
- “If I had not stopped, that car would have hit me!”
In these examples, the first clause – referred to as an if clause – uses past perfect tense because the action is relative specifically to the speaker’s present. Note the use of a helping verb in both examples.
The main clause is the present conditional, which identifies the consequences of the if clause coming true.
The first example describes an alternate reality in which the speaker travelled back in time to change the past and now possesses superhuman strength. The speaker would probably prefer nobody changed the past in the second example.
Note that both sentences work the same if the clauses are reversed:
- “I could lift that car if I had exercised more.”
- “The car would have hit me if I had not stopped!”
So, perhaps present conditionals aren’t so much time travel as speculation or wishful thinking.
Nonetheless, whether expressing gratitude or regret, they allow us to envision the consequences of an imaginary past. Alternatively, perfect conditionals, as we will see next, envision the past consequences of an imaginary present.