Students are always worried about grammar. There is a consensus of opinion that they need to study a lot more on their grammar. Of course, a teacher who does not know grammar would seem a bit strange, and they will be asked about it and will at times have to highlight it in the course of their teaching; once they are over that I feel the teacher should, in essence, focus on providing information about the students’ specific goals so that acquisition activities can focus on the topics and situations most relevant to the students’ needs. It can be shown that “we determine the situations in which they will use the target language and the sorts of topics they will have to communicate about” notwithstanding “we do not organize the activities of the class about a grammatical syllabus” (Krashen and Terrell 1983:71). All the same, on my TEFL course I had to complete a grammar assignment. I have added it here for you guys to get a feel of what is involved which is not just knowing how the grammar point is formed.
Past perfect tense in the if clause and would have + past participle
(had + past participle) the other part of the sentence
If you had asked me I would have told you
Real situation = you didn’t ask me, so I didn’t tell you.
When do we use 3rd conditional?
We use the 3rd conditional to talk about – regret, wishes, hindsight
*Unreal past situation (imagining the impossible): to talk about hypothetical past situations. The speaker is dreaming of or imagining a different past. But the past cannot be changed.
*The conditional may be with a negative. In the case of a negative with the past tense, the opposite of what is said is true, that what was said in the negative did, in fact, happen, like ‘If it had not rained…’, meaning it did rain.
*You must watch the tense; maybe it is in the past, even though a conditional sentence. If the verb is in the past perfect tense, it can refer to something that did not happen in the past.
‘If I had known I would have told you’.
Real situation = I didn’t know. I didn’t tell you
* The if sentence that describes the past, describes something different from what happened,
‘ If we hadn’t invented paper we wouldn’t have had newspapers; in fact, we did invent newspapers.
When the time referred to is the same in both clauses, we have:
‘If he had done this (or ‘Had he done this’), he would have sinned’; ‘Had we done this, we should have let you know.’
Real situation = He didn’t do this, so he didn’t sin.
*Strategy: When you hear an ‘if’, you must think that this is a conditional and that if the sentence is positive, then the speaker means the situation never happened or has not yet happened and if it is negative and in the past, then the situation did happen. Don’t forget the inverted form of the conditional, like ‘Had it not rained…’ for ‘If it had not rained…’; in both cases, they are of course the same, it did rain!
Pronunciation (problems with)
If (1) you’d listened you (2) wouldn’t have failed the exam.
If you (3) hadn’t gone I would have spoke with you.
(1) The pronunciation of YOU + HAD when contracted = YOU’D with the /d/ sound.
(2) The pronunciation of WOULD + NOT when contracted = WOULDN”T with the /nt/ sound.
(3) The pronunciation of HAD + NOT when contracted = HADN”T with the /nt/ sound.
Mistakes that can be made
Different structures using conditionals makes for different meanings.
Example (Second conditional)
If I were rich I would spend my time traveling.
This sentence is talking about unreal or improbable situations now or in the future.
CORRECT example using (Third conditional)
I f I had been rich I would have spent time traveling
The speaker is dreaming of or imagining a different past. But the past cannot be changed.
If my father hadn’t met my mother I wouldn’t be here now.
This sentence is talking about the present situation that is no longer possible because of the way things have turned out.
Comprehension checking questions
If I hadn’t gone out last night I wouldn’t have crashed my car
Did I stay in last night?
Did I go out in my car last night?
Did I get home safely last night?
Did I crash my car last night?
Was my car damaged yesterday afternoon?
Is my car damaged now?
Did I go out then crash my car?
Did I crash my car then go out?
Real situation: I went out last night and crashed my car.
(b) If Jeff had gotten up early, he wouldn’t have missed the plane
Did Jeff get up early?
Did Jeff miss the plane?
Real situation: John didn’t get up early, so he missed the plane.
The grammatical form changes from the unreal to the real in the answers to a conditional sentence.
Exercise (Testing Point)
*Strategy: When you hear an ‘if’, you must think that this is a conditional, and that if the sentence is positive, then the speaker means the situation never happened or has not yet happened and if it is negative and in the past, then the situation did happen. Don’t forget the inverted form of the conditional, like ‘Had it not rained…’ for ‘If it had not rained…’; in both cases, they are of course the same, it did rain!
Example: If the children had been better fed, they would not have fallen ill.
(A) The children became sick.
(B) Children were not fed and that made them ill.
(C) It was wrong for them to feed the children.
(D) Even though they were well fed the children fell ill.
Correct Answer: A
Explanation: The result of the situation was that the children fell ill, or became sick, but not as in B, because they were not fed, but because they were not ‘better’ fed. The condition was that they were not fed well, and if they had been they might not have fallen sick.
Complete the dialogues
A: My shirt is too small.
B: Did you throw away the receipt?
A: No, I’ve still got it. Why?
B: If you ______________ you wouldn’t have been able to take it back to the shop.
A: I got drunk last night and got into work late.
B: You shouldn’t drink so much.
A: If ________________ so much last night I wouldn’t have been late this morning.
Write a sentence for this situation
You are upset because last night you said ‘you are stupid’ to a friend. Your friend walked out of the restaurant very angry. Use the third conditional to imagine a different past.
If I ____________________________ I _____________________________________
Use of special conditional structure
Example: __________ , we wouldn’t have gone to the beach.
(A) If it rains
(B) Had it rained
(C) It rained
(D) If it has rained
Correct answer: B
Explanation: The sentence is conditional, as can be seen by ‘would’ in the main clause. The subordinate clause could begin with ‘if’ ; ‘If it had rained’ to be parallel with ‘would not have gone’. However, an alternative structure is the inverted form without ‘if’ , ‘Had it rained’.
Activity (Desert Island Game)
The teacher outlines a situation:
A man went out in his boat and there was a storm, he could not get back to the harbour because the engine was broken and the sails ripped in the wind. He was blown hundreds of miles off course. He landed on a desert island with no supplies, food or radio equipment.
The students must decide which 10 things he should have done or shouldn’t have done that would have helped him; being on a desert island using third conditional.
The students in their groups must justify their answers.
List of resources
A-Z of English grammar & usage by Geoffrey Leech – Longman
Practical English Usage – Michael Swan – Oxford University Press
English grammar in use – Raymond Murphy –Cambridge University Press