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I've been told that the following examples of conditional sentences are wrong because the tenses don't match the structure of any of the four types: zero, first, second, or third. I'm very confused because I think they are acceptable, and I would like some other opinions. Here they are. I've included the preceding sentences for context and put the problem words in bold.

Person A: 'He was absolutely furious earlier.'

Person B: 'Do you think he's still angry?'

Person A: 'Oh, yeah. If he was that angry this morning, he will no doubt still be angry now.'

And there's also this exchange:

Person A: 'Do you know where Michael is?

Person B: 'He messaged me to tell me he was leaving the restaurant. That was half an hour ago.'

Person A: 'Come on. We should go. If he left the restaurant half an hour ago, he will be home any second.'

I've also thought of a few more instances where I think the tenses don't adhere to any of the four types.

'If you bought a car fitted with a faulty device between 2003 and 2009, you can make a compensation claim with our law firm.'

'If you loved her last book, you will love her new one.'

My questions are: Are these conditional sentences acceptable? And, if so, what type of conditional are these examples? Is there a proper term for them? I think it's right that they don't fit into any of the four types, but I'm not sure if that means they're wrong.

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  • I suggest you look up: mixed conditionals. The one re the restaurant and book are ones.
    – Lambie
    Mar 19, 2023 at 22:02
  • They sound fine. Huddleston and Pullum state that "all combinations (of time-spheres) are possible, though some are much more frequent than others." They give the following example, which correponds to yours: "If they batted first they will probably win." If I were to pigeon-hole it, I would say it's a variation of Type 1.
    – user168384
    Mar 19, 2023 at 22:13
  • @Lambie Is the book one different from the first two examples? They all follow the simple past with "will", so I thought they would be of the same type.
    – JJ_Douglas
    Mar 19, 2023 at 23:23

1 Answer 1

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The idea of "zeroth, first, second, third" conditionals is a simplification made for children learning English as a second language. These are not used in lessons for native-speaking English children, nor are they used in big English grammar books for linguists.

The big point about tense in conditions is that sometimes the tense can indicate the hypothetical or counterfactual nature of the hypothetical, not the time of the event. So the second conditional "If I became President, I would get rid of taxes." doesn't refer to a past time (as the word became seems to indicate) but a present or future time that is hypothetical and unlikely.

But the tense can also just mean past time. Person A is using a simple first condition in the past tense. "If he was angry..." and he was angry so you can make a conclusion about how he is now. Similarly "If he left the restaurant half an hour ago" (he did leave then, and so ...) This is another first conditional. The hypothetical statement is believed to be possible, or likely.

So in real grammar, there are lots of possible combinations of tenses. First-second etc is a scaffold to understand some of the possible meanings of some of these combinations, but doesn't cover all the possiblities.

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  • I disagree that they are for children. They are used as a first approach. And very useful indeed.
    – Lambie
    Mar 19, 2023 at 21:50
  • I also disagree. In the CamGEL, the section on conditionals spans 27 pages of dense argumentation, involving logic, time, tenses and aspects, modality, etc. For there being any chance in teaching it, it has to be made more digestible, and I think that even a three-type approach is good one.
    – user168384
    Mar 19, 2023 at 22:09
  • The fact remains that no English lesson in schools in England or Wales teachs about "second conditional". They are a first approach as @Lambie says, and normally people first learn English as children. Yes exactly - it is a scaffold. It may be useful, but let's not mistake it for being the actual building.
    – James K
    Mar 20, 2023 at 6:03
  • James, no school (on either side of the pond) teaches conditionals per se to native speakers. They just correct the written mistakes and hope the kids "get it".
    – Lambie
    Mar 20, 2023 at 14:10

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