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Advanced Level: Future Unreal Conditional

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There are different forms of the future unreal conditional.

Form 1

If ... Past Simple ..., ...would + verb - ...would + verb... if ... Simple Past
( this form looks the same as the present unreal conditional)

Lesson by Tristan, teacher at EC Malta English school

The Future Unreal Conditional is used to talk about imaginary situations in the future. It is not as commonly used as the Future Real Conditional because native speakers often leave open the possibility that anything 'might' happen.
If I had some time off work, I would go to Rome.
(but I don't)

I'm really busy next week. If I had time, I would meet you.
(I do not have time to meet you)

Danny would help me tomorrow if he didn't have to work.
(He has to work tomorrow)

Because the Future Unreal Conditional looks the same as the Present Unreal Conditional most Native speakers prefer Form 2 as this emphasises that the conditional form is in the future rather than the present.

Form 2

If ... were + present participle ..., ... would be + present participle ...
... would be + present participle ... if ... were + present participle...
If I were going to Rome next week, I would be trying to find accommodation.
(I am not going to Rome and I am not trying to find accommodation)
If I were not working tomorrow, I would help you. (Note that the 'were + present participle' structure is now in the 'if clause'.
If I had time tomorrow, I would be fishing on the lake. ( 'were + present participle' structure is in the result clause)

Form 3

Form 3 of the Future Unreal Conditional is similar to Form 2 except that 'were + going to + verb' is used in the 'if clause':
If I were going to go to Rome, I would be trying to find accommodation.

It is important to remember that 'when' cannot be used in the Future Unreal Conditional for the simple fact that 'when' expresses an amount of certainty which cannot be expressed with the Future unreal Conditional.

Future Unreal Conditional with modal verbs.
'Can', 'shall' and 'may' cannot be used with would. When we want to use would with these words we have to replace them with the following:
Would + can becomes could
Would + shall becomes should
Would + may becomes might
If I had time I would can learn Spanish. (Incorrect)
If I had time I could learn Spanish.

Compare the following sentences to see the difference between the Future Real Conditional and the Future Unreal Conditional.

If you help me tomorrow, I will take you out to dinner. (I don't know if you can help me)
If you helped me tomorrow, I would take you out to dinner. (You can't or don’t want to help me.)

Now complete the following with a Future Real or Unreal Conditional where appropriate:

  • 1. I’m going to be in London next week. If I _ time, I’ll try to go to a show.




  • 2. Peter hates musicals. If he _, I’m sure he would be coming to the show.



  • 3. If you were going out tomorrow, we _ meet for a coffee.




  • 4. We’re going to drive through Nevada so if I see any UFOs, I _ take a picture. I’m only joking.



  • 5. If Sarah _ here degree, she will do her masters at Oxford.



  • 6. I didn’t really like Milan. If I _ to the north of Italy, I wouldn’t go there again. To be honest I prefer visiting new places.



  • 7. If you ever managed to persuade Peter to go scuba diving, I don’t think he _ enjoy the experience.