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Here's my understanding about first and second conditionals.

If Tom has time, he will visit us.

It's an open narrative. If Tom has time, he will visit us. If he doesn't, then he won't.

If Tom had time, he would visit us.

It's unlikely Tom will have time, but there is still a slight chance he will visit us.

If Tom has time, he would visit us.

If Tom has time, his visiting is likely to happen. But he might decide to do something else. The speaker is just not sure.

He can catch the train, if you give him a ride.

The speaker is just narrating the truth.

He could catch the train, if you gave him a ride.

Not very likely the person can give him a ride. The person got something else to do.

He could catch the train, if you give him a ride.

If you give him a ride, it is possible he will catch the train, but not that likely.

Could anyone tell me if I understand the modal verbs and use them in conditionals correctly?

Because someone told me the verb and the modal should be in the same tense, like using "had" with "would" or "has" with "will".

  • Modals have multiple uses. For instance, I'd say that 'If Tom had time, he would visit us.' is usually used as a defence, explaining why Tom doesn't visit us (or, as you get close to saying, will not be visiting us) – that he's not just being stand-offish or uncaring. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 11 '17 at 7:52
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    I can't think of a circumstance where I'd use If Tom has time, he would visit us. I interpret the difference between He could catch the train, if you give him a ride, and He can catch the train, if you give him a ride, as the same as the difference between He could catch the train and He can catch the train without the if clause. For example, you might say Tom can't take the bus home, because he's missed the last one. He could stay with us tonight, or he could catch the train if you give him a ride. – Peter Shor Aug 12 '17 at 16:19
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Could anyone tell me if I understand the modal verbs and use them in conditionals correctly?

Sentences with modals often have 2 meanings - a literal meaning and a real meaning. The real meaning is often an indirect request and is sensitive to context and knowledge/beliefs of the parties of the conversation.

He could catch the train, if you gave him a ride.

Literally this means "The statement 'He has the ability to catch the train' is true if this condition is met: 'you gave him a ride'"

"Not very likely the person can give him a ride. The person got something else to do."

This is one possible "real meaning." Another possible "real meaning" is that someone is asking politely to provide him a ride, so that he can catch the train.

If Tom has time, he would visit us.

"It's unlikely Tom will have time, but there is still a slight chance he will visit us."

Another "real meaning" might be that this is an indirect request to give Tom time somehow, maybe by doing something for him, so that he will decide to visit us. The use of would here means either A) we believe Tom would visit us if he has time, but we don't know that for a fact, or B) Tom is doing something else, but we believe Tom would change those plans if he had time, and we don't know that for a fact.

If Tom has time, he will visit us.

Here, we are very certain Tom will visit us if he has time - this is what to use if we knew what Tom would do for a fact. This also more strongly implies there's nothing we can do to increase Tom's time.

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