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Conditional Sentences (#8), by Dennis Oliver

  

Conditional Sentences with Modal Verbs

 

Conditional sentences, both real and unreal, frequently
use modal auxiliaries--not only in the
result, but also in
the
condition. The modals which are most commonly
used in American English are
can, could, may, might,
must, should, will, and would. The "modal equivalents"
have to and has to are also common:

 

Real:

If he can help, he does. ( = He helps.)

If he can help, he will. ( = He will help.)

If I may help, ask me.*

If I might help, ask me.*

If we must help, we do. ( = We help.)

If you should need help, please ask us.*

If he has to help, he does. ( = He helps.)

If he will help, he'll do a good job.*

 

Unreal:

If he could help, he would. ( = He would help.)

If he could have helped, he would have.
( = He would have helped.)

If he would help, he'd do a good job.*

 

Special Notes:

1.    "If I may ___" and "if I might ___" both mean
something like "if you will permit me to ___ ."
"If I might" is "softer" and more formal than
"if I may," but both are polite.
     
2.  

When should is used in a condition, it suggests
that the condition is unlikely or unexpected but
still possible:

If I should see him . . . = It's unlikely that
I'll see him, but it's possible.

If the baby should wake up . . . = We don't
expect the baby to wake up, but it's possible
that he / she will.

If you should need any help . . . = It seems
unlikely that you'll need help, but it's possible.

     
3.  

When will or would are used in conditions,
they refer to
volition or willingness:

If you'll help me, I'll pay you. ( = If you're
willing to help me, I'll pay you.)

If she'll work harder, she'll succeed. ( = If she's
willing to work harder, she'll succeed.)

If we'll all work together, we'll finish early.
( = If we're all willing to work together, we'll
finish early.)

If he would help me, I'd pay him. ( = If he
were willing to help me, I would pay him.)

If she would work harder, she'd succeed.
( = If she were willing to work harder,
she would succeed.)

If we'd all work together, we'd finish early.
( = If we were all willing to work together,
we'd finish early.)

     
4.  

In present / future unreal conditionals, could
sometimes refers to permission, sometimes
refers to ability, and sometimes refers to either
permission or ability:

If I could go with you, I would. ( = If I were
able to / permitted to go with you, I would go.)

If she could do the work, she wouldn't need
help. ( = If she were able to do the work, she
wouldn't need help.)

If I could leave work early today, I'd be very
grateful. ( = If I were able / were permitted to
leave work early today, I'd be very grateful.

     
5.  

In past unreal conditionals, could have is
sometimes used to refer to ability:

If I could have gone with you, I would have.
( = If I had been able to go with you, I would
have gone.)

If she could have done the work, she wouldn't
have needed help. ( = If she had been able to
do the work, she wouldn't have needed help.)

If I could have left work early, I would've
been very grateful. ( = If I had been able to
leave work early, I would've been very grateful.

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