She made a deal with her daughter. ( )

  1. If she improves her grades, the mother would buy her a new toy.

  2. If she improved her grades, the mother would buy her a new toy

  3. If she would improve her grades, the mother would buy her a new toy

I know we use "would" for describing the future in a past story. But, how about in an if-conditional sentence? I guess what I am trying to say is that if your story is written in the past tense and you want to use the first conditional:" If your grades improve, I will buy you new toys.", do you change the tense or the aspect in that sentence? I apologize if I am not being clear.

  • There is a typo: "deal wither her daughter"
    – James K
    Aug 8, 2018 at 13:40
  • As an aside, we would normally say "her mother", not "the mother". Her mother is specifically the mother of the daughter, but "the mother" implies some kind of specific "mother" that is apparently not the mother of the daughter, so it sounds weird.
    – stangdon
    Aug 8, 2018 at 13:56
  • Those sentences are supposed to be part of a story where the mother has been previously introduced to the readers. In that case, may I still use "the mother"?
    – Tom Lee
    Aug 8, 2018 at 16:19

3 Answers 3


As the answers and comments show, a lot depends on whether you are writing about something that has already happened (she improved her grades, or did not do so) or about something that might or might not happen in the future.

If it is the latter, you will find Number 3 (of course, with the correction that it must be "her" mother) being used by some native speakers (in my experience predominantly AmE, but by no means excluding BrE) to mean two quite different meanings.

If I said "If she would improve her grades..." I would wish to imply that it is only her stubbornness that could prevent her doing so (her lack of will being expressed as "would"). But some speakers, in my view erroneously, would mean no more than a simple future conditional, which I would express with "If she improved her grades...".


The conclusion of the condition needs to indicate that the action is completed. For that you use a perfective form "would have bought". The conditional also needs back shifting, to a past perfect.

If she had improved her grades, her mother would've bought her a new toy.

Since this is now about a situation that did not occur, a "counterfactual" conditional, this is a "type 3" conditional.

  • Alternatively, if the deal still holds, as is possible: *...that if she improves her grades, her mother will (or *would) buy her a new toy."" Aug 8, 2018 at 14:14
  • Using if + past perfect sounds like the readers already know her grades didn't improve. What if the story stops there? The readers do not know whether her grades were going to improve not not? In that case, no 1?
    – Tom Lee
    Aug 8, 2018 at 16:10

I would use the subjunctive: "If she were to improve her grades, her mother would buy her a new toy." You can also just report it as direct speech: "She made a deal with her daughter: 'If you improve your grades, I will buy you a new toy.' "

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