Conditionals always make me confused. My question is that when I want to build a sentence relating to possible events in the present time. Which conditional form should I use?

For example, I am wondering about my friend's opinion regarding something(quite likely) that he would see right now and his response to that thing.

1-If you see X, what will you do? (First conditional)

2-If you saw X, what would you do? (Second conditional)

3-If you see X, what would you do? (Mixed conditional) (I would choose this one)

  • 1
    Compare Google Books hits for if it does, what will (1840), if it does, what would (1450), if it did, what will (3), and if it did, what would (3350). The third one is obviously not favoured, but I think those results show that your choice above is at least "sub-optimal". Mar 21, 2019 at 19:00
  • [correction: Conditionals always confuse me]. The possible events are not in the present time: the sentence is spoken or written in a present time. Any outcome from any of the conditionals you posted could occur at any time at all from the moment they are uttered to some undefined future.
    – Lambie
    Mar 21, 2019 at 19:25

1 Answer 1


1 - This is fine. I think see here is an example of the futurate. It's asking what you will do if you see X in the future. EDIT - as @Lambie points out, maybe "futurate" is not the appropriate term here. It's a hypothetical about something that could happen in the future.

2 - This is what I would go with for something that could happen in the present. Maybe it seems counterintuitive to an English learner, but even though this sounds like the past tense, it's not really talking about the past. You could say:

If you saw X right now, what would you do?

If you did want to talk about a possibility in the past, you would probably use the past perfect:

If you had seen X (yesterday, e.g.), what would you have done?

3 - This doesn't sound grammatical; you can't mix the present tense and conditional mood in this case. In particular, I think the combination of present-tense verb + past-tense modal verb (could, should, would) does not work. @Jasper came up with a good counterexample to my original statement that the present tense and conditional mood don't ever mix - that's not true. I think it is fair to say that the verbs could, should, and would, when used to indicate hypothetical situations, can only be used with past-tense verbs. (Happy to revise my answer if someone can refute this.)

  • Regarding 3: Does the following construction mix the present tense and the conditional mood? "When you see X, what do you do?"
    – Jasper
    Mar 21, 2019 at 18:52
  • @Jasper fair point, I thought maybe I spoke too quickly; I'll edit my answer.
    – Mixolydian
    Mar 21, 2019 at 18:54
  • I think this is completely wrong. Since when did if-clauses become futurates??[ [The use of a non-future-tense verb to express future time. In English, typically this refers to present-tense verbs.] Conditionals are not expressing future time. They are expressing hypothetical future outcomes.
    – Lambie
    Mar 21, 2019 at 19:27
  • @Lambie perhaps I'm using the wrong terminology; maybe futurate is only appropriate for the indicative mood. In any case, don't you agree there's a difference between hypothetical future (or present) outcomes and hypothetical past outcomes? Are you saying you believe there isn't?
    – Mixolydian
    Mar 21, 2019 at 19:57
  • 1
    @Mixolydian Most of the grammar sites are saying this "We use this type of conditionals to talk about unlikely situations in the present or future.." (learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/intermediate-grammar/…) (enguroo.com/2018/06/08/conditionals) Mar 21, 2019 at 20:34

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .