I'm already familiar with the imperative form of first conditional, for example:

tell me if you need something
alert the guards if you see anything suspicious.

but how about the use of second conditional in an imperative sentence? Is that even correct? For example:

if you needed something, you would tell me
-> tell me if you needed something.

I would alert the guards if I saw anything
-> alert the guards if you saw anything / if you happened to see anything.


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  • Oh good, you only have two hundred and seventy-five English conditionals to go! – tchrist Jan 27 '18 at 21:41
  • I don't think those sentences are grammatical, or at least (if I'm understanding your question correctly) they don't mean what I think you want them to. "Alert the guards if you saw anything" means "If (sometime in the past) you saw something, please go alert the guards (now)." In particular "if you saw" is not a hypothetical, it's just a conditional about the past. – Nicolas Ford Jan 27 '18 at 22:12
  • What about Would you need something, tell me? – Kman3 Jan 27 '18 at 22:13
  • That I think is just ungrammatical. "If you needed something, would you tell me?" is something I might say, maybe to a friend; it means that I don't know whether or not you need something, but I'm asking you whether, if you did need something, you would let me know, presumably so that I can help you. – Nicolas Ford Jan 27 '18 at 22:21
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    @tchrist That's quite a list. – Andrew Jan 28 '18 at 4:40

The whole point of the second conditional is to talk about a hypothetical consequence of a hypothetical situation: one that (as far as the speaker is concerned) isn't going to happen. For it to be a true second conditional, the tense of the consequence-clause is backshifted to indicate that the consquence is also hypothetical.

If you change the tense of the consequence-clause to an imperative, it is no longer a second conditional.

By using an imperative, the speaker is indicating that they are talking about a non-hypothetical consequence, and that could never be the consequence of a hypothetical situation.

Tell me if you needed something.

This sentence is grammatical, but it does not fit the template for a second condtional. It's only a second conditional if the verbs in both clauses are backshifted.

What it means is if you needed anything in the past, please tell me now.

Here's a situation where it might be used. A science teacher is preparing a practical exam, and wants to make sure that all of the required equipment and materials are available in the lab. The teacher asks a technician to do the dry-run. Once it is completed, the teacher might say to the technician "tell me if you needed anything [that wasn't available]". They are discussing a real situation that occurred in the past, not a hypothetical situation in the future.

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    thanks. however i don't think making a sentence imperative necessarily eliminates the 'conditional' nature of it. consider "tell me if you needed anything". the speaker may refer to a hypothetical, unlikely situation where the audience 'might' need something. it is a command, yet a command given for a hypothetical, uncertain situation. – Faradin Jan 28 '18 at 14:01
  • @Faradin, I have updated my answer. – JavaLatte Jan 28 '18 at 14:28

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