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Which conditional is this?

If John did not come to work yesterday, he was probably ill.

I would hazard a guess that it is a first conditional as there is a fair probability that John being ill was actually the reason for not coming to work - however, all the references I have indicate that the first conditional is for the future only.

Thanks for any comments / explanations!

2 Answers 2

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If John did not come to work yesterday, he was probably ill.

This isn't any of the conditionals you mention. It is not an example of one statement depending on another; it is a statement of logic that one thing must mean another.

The speaker is indicating that he does not know for certain whether John came into work or not - but if it is true that he didn't, that would probably be because he was ill.

Consider what the same person might say if they knew for certain that John did not come into work, but was still unaware of his reason:

John did not come into work yesterday. He must have been ill.

If he was aware of the absence and the reason, he would probably say:

John didn't come into work yesterday because he was ill.

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  • In your "still unaware of his reason" example, perhaps it would be better to say ...he might have been ill, or ...perhaps he was ill. Apr 16, 2021 at 13:00
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The "First, second, third conditionals" are lies told to children. They help to give some structure to learning the conditional structures in English, but don't give every possible combination of tenses.

Here it is clear that the condition is "real". It is factual so this functions like a "zero conditional". It expresses an implication, rather than a prediction.

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  • Thanks for your first point. I'd not appreciated that the first/second/third conditionals structure did not cover everything. Regarding your second point, I am not sure that it is factual. John could have been on holiday for example.
    – Simon Tye
    Apr 16, 2021 at 8:32
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    Grammatically it's a real condition because the simple past here represents the real past rather than a backshifted present. The simple past in a second conditional is a backshifted present, for example, not a reference to past events. @SimonTye
    – rjpond
    Apr 16, 2021 at 8:47
  • But it is possible in this scenario that John did come to work, just the speaker didn't see him for whatever reason. Maybe they work in different parts of the building and just didn't cross paths, maybe their hours don't overlap, maybe the speaker didn't come to work yesterday, so has no way of knowing unless someone told them. Any number of ways the first part could be false. Apr 16, 2021 at 17:09

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