I am a English learner. I am studying Conditional these day and I learned there are many types of conditional.

Zero. If you heat ice, it melts. (The zero conditional is often used to refer to general truths)

One. If you don't hurry, you will miss the train. (The type 1 conditional refers to a possible condition and its probable result)

Two. If you went to bed earlier you would not be so tired. (The type 2 conditional is used to refer to a hypothetical condition and its probable result)

Three. If you had studied harder you would have passed the exam. (The type 3 conditional is used to refer to an unreal past condition and its probable past result)

I learned like this.. but recently I found there are strange examples

[Yesterday I went to the school and I found there was a handsome boy, I wanted to speak to him, but I couldn't...! If I knew his name I would say hello to him]

When I read this part of the sentence

[If I knew his name, I would say hello to him]

I felt a writer said about past.

But I thought It should be [ If I had known his name, I would have said hello to him ] like this.

To check if that sentence is wrong or not I asked to my teacher but my teacher said that sentence was correct ..

Thank you for reading my question !

  • 3
    English does not have "numbered" conditionals. This is merely a training device used by EFL teachers; it is not real in any real sense of the term. It isn't even as real as those extra training wheels you put on the bikes of children at first before they know how to ride without them, although the analogy has some applicability to this situation nonetheless. Therefore I shall send you to the site for such things.
    – tchrist
    Aug 14, 2019 at 0:53
  • Oh thank you for comment !! :> Could I know where is the link that you said about site?
    – ukwon95
    Aug 14, 2019 at 1:19
  • If it's correct, it's talking about the present/future and not the past (this seems quite possible to me). Aug 14, 2019 at 1:44
  • Thank you for comment Peter Shor !! :>
    – ukwon95
    Aug 14, 2019 at 2:06
  • This is a common issue. Here's a related reading: First, second and third conditional.
    – Em.
    Aug 14, 2019 at 5:11

1 Answer 1


The sentence

If I knew his name, I would say hello to him.

means that if the speaker knew the boy's name now (which she does not), or learns it in the immediate future, s/he would then speak with him. It is speaking about a possible present or near future.

The alternate construction:

If I had known his name, I would have said hello to him.

is speaking of an unreal past. It is grammatically valid, but has a different meaning.

You should be aware that English conditionals do not come in neatly separated types, and that to the best of my knowledge, no native speaker learns them in numbered classes. You may find the numbers helpful devices for memory, and many ESL teachers apparently find them a helpful teaching tool. But outside the specialized area of ESL, no one uses such numbered classes for conditionals, and many conditional expressions do not neatly fit one of the numbered pigeonholes.

  • This answer is full of typos and doesn't make sense. Nov 16, 2022 at 23:09
  • @Araucaria -I have corrected typos on the answer.Thank you for calling attention to them . If you explain what parts do not make sense to you I will try to clarify them. Nov 16, 2022 at 23:35
  • "If the speaker knows the boy's name now, she would speak with him" Nov 16, 2022 at 23:39
  • @Araucaria I am mentioning two possibilities in one sentence: the unreal possibility that the speaker knows the boy's name at the moment of speaking, and the real possibility that the learns it soon after speaking. Discussing both at once leads to a slightly confusing verb form, but I think it is fairly clear. I have tried to clarify it further. Nov 17, 2022 at 0:03
  • That's the problem, "If the speaker knows the boy's name" cannot be a counterfactual protasis. Just like we can't say "If David Siegel is a bird, he would fly to Paris", for example. Nov 17, 2022 at 0:15

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