A Quick Guide to Conditionals (Part 3)

So far in our series of blog posts on conditional sentences, we’ve discussed the zero, first and second conditionals.

In this final part, we’ll talk about the third conditional and then do a quick comparison of all four structures.  

Third conditional

Unlike the first and second conditionals, which talk about situations in the present or future, the third conditional is used to talk about a past situation that is unreal. In fact, we imagine a change in a past situation, where something did or did not happen, and then imagine a different result for it.

Examples

If Tom had played, he would have scored for sure.

If I had married her, I would have lived in Switzerland.

Sam wouldn’t have passed the test if his girlfriend hadn’t helped him.

The first example is about Tom, who did not play in a particular match. However, the speaker imagines just the opposite and then talks about an imaginary result, i.e. Tom getting his name on the score sheet. The third conditional is often used to express regret or to complain about something.

Structure

if + past perfectwould + have + past participle
conditional clausemain clause

Comparison

Even proficient language users would be quick to admit that it isn’t easy to get your head around the concept of conditionals. One thing to remember is to NOT focus on form, as it may be misleading. For instance, although the second conditional structure has the past tense, such sentences usually talk about the present or future.      

Here’s a quick comparison of the various conditional structures to help you decide when to use what:

ConditionalExampleTimeMeaning
ZeroIf you heat chocolate, it melts.AnyTalks about something that is always true
FirstIf I get this job, I’ll buy you a new phone.FutureTalks about something that is likely to happen
SecondIf I won the lottery, I would buy a Ferrari.Present or futureTalks about something that is unlikely to happen
ThirdIf I hadn’t drunk so much, I wouldn’t have got into trouble.PastTalks about an unreal past and its imaginary result

Conditional sentences can be hard to master, but remember, if you know how to use them well, you can talk about imaginary situations with confidence.

A Quick Guide to Conditionals (Part 2)

In a previous blog post, we began exploring conditional sentences, a set of grammar structures that describe situations and results. We also looked at some uses of the zero conditional.

In this part, we’ll take a closer look at the first and second conditional.

First conditional

The first conditional is used to talk about an imaginary situation in the future and its possible result. Even though the outcome here is likely, it is not guaranteed, as in the case of the zero conditional.

Examples

If it begins to rain, we’ll get a cab.

If you lie to the police, you might get into trouble.

You’ll miss your flight if you don’t wake up before sunrise.

Modal verbs other than will are sometimes used in the main clause to convey different shades of meaning. For instance, might can be used instead of will to show a slightly lesser degree of likelihood (see example 2 above).

Structure

if + present simplewill + infinitive
conditional clausemain clause

Second conditional

We use the second conditional to describe situations in the present or future that are imaginary. By choosing to use the second conditional, we are saying that the situation we are referring to is unlikely to happen in reality.

Examples

If I became president, I would abolish all taxes.

If I were you, I wouldn’t buy those shoes.

I would marry him if I were single.

Remember, in the second conditional, when if is followed by the verb be, it is common to use were in place of was (e.g. if I were, if he were, if she were, if it were). In fact, in the English-speaking world, the phrase ‘if I were you’ often accompanies a piece of informal advice (see example 2 above). You can use it to tell someone what you think they should do in a particular situation.

Structure

if + past simplewould + infinitive
conditional clausemain clause

Although the conditional clause here has a past tense, it does not indicate past time. The use of past tenses indicates a distance from present reality, thereby making what is being said imaginary.

Do make sure you come back to read the final part on conditional structures.

A Quick Guide to Conditionals (Part 1)

There’s little doubt that the primary purpose of using language is to communicate thoughts and ideas, but this can only be done effectively if the user has sufficient grammatical competence.  Poor use of grammar can cause confusion, sometimes leading to a complete breakdown in communication.

Not surprisingly, a candidate’s ability to use grammatical features with precision is something that all English language tests assess. One way to show off your grammar skills in a test is by using conditional sentences, a set of structures that can communicate a range of ideas.

Basically, a conditional sentence has two parts, which describe a condition and its result. The if-clause (conditional clause) talks about the condition, whereas the main clause tells us about the result. Here’s an example:

If you do your homework,I’ll get you an ice cream.
conditionresult

The example sentence above begins with the if-clause, followed by the main clause. Alternatively, you may begin a conditional sentence with the main clause and then add the if-clause.

I’ll get you an ice cream if you do your homework.

A change in the order of the clauses does not alter the meaning of the sentence in any way. The only difference is punctuation: when we begin the sentence with the if-clause, we use a comma to separate it from the main clause.

There are several types of conditional sentences in English. Here, we’ll consider four basic structures that are commonly used.

Zero conditional

We use the zero conditional to talk about things that are generally true. What we mean to say by employing this structure is that something always leads to something else, and that the result is guaranteed. Zero conditionals are particularly useful for talking about scientific facts, or general truths connected to rules and laws.

Examples

If you heat iron, it turns red. (scientific fact)

If I drink tea at night, I don’t fall asleep. (general fact about an individual)

You get fined if you ride a motorbike without a helmet. (general truth connected to law)

Structure

if + present simplepresent simple
conditional clausemain clause

We’ll be back soon with another blog post on some more common conditional structures.  

A Quick Guide to Nouns (Part 2)

In the previous part, we spoke of three different types of noun – countable, uncountable, and collective.

Here are some more varieties that pop up in our everyday conversations.

Common and proper nouns

We use a common noun to refer to people, things, or places in a general sense. For instance, the word woman can mean any adult female, while the word restaurant can be used to talk about any place where you can buy and eat a meal.

By comparison, a proper noun refers to a specific person, thing, or place. It can be the name of an individual, a place, an organisation, etc. For instance, Emma Watson refers to a particular adult female, whereas Hard Rock Café is the name of a specific chain of theme restaurants.

As a general rule, proper nouns always begin with capital letters in written English. If a proper noun has more than one part (e.g. Martin Luther King, NOT Martin luther king), then the first letter in each gets capitalised.

Here’s a quick comparison to help you understand the difference between the two types:

Common noun Proper noun
woman Emma Watson
man Martin Luther King
city London
country Germany
restaurant Hard Rock Cafe
motorbike Suzuki Hayabusa

Concrete and abstract nouns

As the name suggests, a concrete noun refers to people or things that exist physically. In other words, they can be experienced using our senses – sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. Examples of such nouns include light, aroma, music, coffee, and cotton.

Abstract nouns, on the contrary, have no physical existence. They refer to ideas, qualities, and conditions, none of which can be experienced via senses. Words such as honesty, joy, friendship, sorrow, lies, and time are all abstract in nature.

Compound noun

A compound noun is formed by joining two or more words to make a single noun. It can be a single word, a hyphenated word, or two separate words. Here are some examples: sunrise, toothpaste, passer-by, mother-in-law, washing machine, fish hook.

Remember, a noun can fall into more than one category. Sydney, for example, is both a concrete noun and a proper noun. Being aware of various types of noun can help you use language more confidently and accurately.

A Quick Guide to Nouns (Part 1)

What is common to the words Philip, Melbourne, elephant, table, and love?

They are all nouns, words which are the central building blocks of English. It’s next to impossible to avoid nouns when using English, because we need them to refer to the subject of a sentence. A noun can refer to a person, a place, an animal, a thing, or an idea. Here are some quick explanations to help you understand some commonly used types of nouns.

Countable and uncountable nouns

In English, certain nouns are treated as separate items and so can be counted. For instance, we can count words such as camera (one camera, two cameras, three cameras, etc.), pen, book, and girl. We call such words countable nouns. They can appear in two forms – singular or plural. When a countable noun is in singular form, the indefinite article (a/an) is usually used before it.

Could I please have a pen? (Not Could I please have pen?)

Uncountable nouns, on the other hand, cannot be treated as separate objects or items, as they are seen as a whole. Some examples of uncountable nouns are milk, juice, homework, luggage, advice, snow, feedback, and information. Naturally, such words are not used in plural form (milks, juices, homeworks, feedbacks). Also, the indefinite article (a/an) does not appear before uncountable nouns.

Could I please get some advice? (Not Could I please get an advice?)

Collective nouns

A collective noun is a word that we use to talk about a collection of people, animals, things, etc. as a single group. The words audience, family, team, police, orchestra, and council are all examples of collective nouns. One problem that learners face is to decide what verb to add after a collective noun – singular or plural. In British English, most collective nouns can be followed by the singular or plural verb, depending on the context. If in doubt, it’s best to consult a dictionary.

The next time you come across a new noun, try to understand what type it is. All good dictionaries list such information.

A Quick Guide to Adverbs (Part 3)

 

So far in this series, we’ve looked at five different adverbial groups – those relating to frequency, place, time, degree, and probability. Here are two more varieties that regularly appear in our everyday conversations.

 

6. Adverbs of manner

Manner adverbs tell us how something happens or the way someone does something. As seen in the example sentences below, adverbs of manner are commonly formed by adding –ly to adjectives (carefully, beautifully, calmly). Based on phonological structure, some words take on a slightly different spelling, as in the case of hungrily.

 

Shawn unboxed the present carefully.

Annie’s brother dances beautifully.

He calmly said that he was quitting.

The kids ate the ice cream hungrily

 

Mind you, there also exist manner adverbs that have the same form as adjectives, so don’t always go by appearance. For instance, the words hard, late, and fast have the same adjectival and adverbial form. In such cases, it’s the context which tells us which form the word is in. Here’s a comparison to help you understand better:

 

He drives a fast car.

(Here ‘fast’ describes the car’s ability to move quickly, so it is acting as an adjective)

 

He drives his car fast.

(Here ‘fast’ describes the manner in which someone drives, so it is acting as an adverb)

 

 

7. Sentence adverbs

Unlike other adverbial types, a sentence adverb refers to an entire sentence and not just a part of it. Also, it does not focus on an action in particular. Instead, it shows us the opinion of the speaker or writer. As they act as a comment, such adverbs are typically placed at the beginning and separated from the rest of the sentence by a comma. Another thing that makes them easy to spot is that they almost always end in –ly.

 

Interestingly, he decided to stay away from the award ceremony.  

Unfortunately, the match had to be abandoned due to heavy rains.  

Luckily, we got a lift to the airport and reached there just in time.  

Clearly, he seems to have lost his magical touch.

 

Sentence adverbs can be used to convey various attitudes and feelings to situations, such as curiosity (interestingly), disappointment (unfortunately), relief (luckily), or clarity (clearly).

 

So, the next time you come across an adverb, think about what type it is and what it is trying to tell you.

A Quick Guide to Adverbs (Part 2)

 

In a previous blog post, we spoke of two specific adverbial groups – adverbs of frequency, which tell us how often something happens, and adverbs of place, which tell us where something happens. Here are three more varieties:

 

3. Adverbs of time

Time adverbs tell us when or for how long an action happens. In the first two examples below, the adverbs tell us when the action takes place, while adverbs in the last couple of sentences refer to the length of action.

 

Dan called me last night.

I’m afraid we’ll have to leave now.

We’ve been here since morning.

I think Tessa and Peter dated for a year.

 

Time adverbs are among the commonest words in English, so they appear quite frequently in our sentences. When talking about the length of an action, we often use the words for and since followed by a time expression. The word for is usually followed by a period of time (e.g. 12 hours, weeks, a year), whereas since is followed by a point in time (e.g. morning, Christmas, 1983).

 

4. Adverbs of degree

An adverb of degree refers to intensity, indicating the degree or extent of something. In the examples below, the adverbs enough, a bit, really, and too tell us just how hot the coffee is.

 

The coffee is hot enough.

The coffee is a bit hot.

The coffee is really hot.

The coffee is too hot.

 

Degree adverbs can modify adjectives (like in the examples above), verbs, or other adverbs. So, it is common to place them before the word they modify in a sentence.

 

5. Adverbs of probability

Adverbs of probability indicate how certain the speaker is about something. In the sentences below, the adverbs perhaps and possibly show less certainty, while definitely and certainly indicate high probability.

 

Perhaps Tom will be there at the party.

Tom will possibly be there at the party.

Tom will definitely be there at the party.

Tom will certainly be there at the party.

 

One challenge when learning new adverbs is knowing where to place them in a sentence. So, remember to read up on placement rules when learning new adverb categories. We’ll be back soon with some more types.

A Quick Guide to Adverbs (Part 1)

 

Many English speakers believe that an adverb is any word ending in –ly, but holding such a belief may do you more harm than good.

 

In reality, not every word that ends in –ly is an adverb, so this approach can be misleading at best. For example, the word rally is a noun as well as verb, while silly, friendly, and pally are adjectives. More importantly, there is no regular structure to adverbs, which means that they come in all shapes and sizes. The words only, well, already, too, and sometimes are all adverbs, although they aren’t similar in appearance.

Adverbs, put simply, are words that modify the meaning of other words (e.g. verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs) around them. At times they can also modify the meaning of entire sentences. Here are some common types of adverbs:

 

1. Adverbs of frequency

As the name suggests, such adverbs show just how frequently something happens. It is common to use an adverb of frequency with the present simple tense to talk about how often we do something.

 

I always drink green tea in the morning.

John often goes to the cinema with friends.

Sally hardly ever listens to rock and roll.

I never buy clothes online.

 

Sometimes we talk about repeated action by using the word ‘every’ followed by a time expression, or by pluralising a day of the week.

 

Jan plays football with friends every Sunday.

I wash my car every week.

Mathew goes to Spain every month.

They have a barbeque in the garden on Sundays.

 

2. Adverbs of place

An adverb of place generally provides information on location or movement. The first two sentences below talk about the direction (ran downstairs, drove past old building) where someone is moving, whereas the next two talk about distances (miles away, nearby).

 

The kids ran downstairs when they heard the doorbell.

We drove past many old buildings.

Mona’s house is a couple of miles away

There is a decent café nearby.

 

We’ll be back with more on adverbs in later posts.

A Quick Guide to Articles (Part 3)

 

In part 2 of this series, we spoke of some situations when the definite article the is generally used.

 

Comparatively speaking, there are more rules for using the definite article than the indefinite variety, a or an. Another thing to remember is that the can appear before singular as well as plural nouns.

 

Here are some more rules to help you.

When to use the

6. Referring to an entire group of people

Examples:

The aged are generally reluctant to use any form of technology.  

[aged = a collective reference to people who are very old]

 

The Swiss are known for their ability to manufacture world-class watches.

[Swiss = a collective reference to citizens of Switzerland]  

 

7. Before the names of countries which have a common noun such as ‘republic’, ‘united’, ‘states’, or which sound plural

Examples:

Dubai is arguably the most popular city in the United Arab Emirates.

My cousin works in the Philippines.

 

8. Before the names of newspapers

Examples:

I met a journalist who works for the Independent at yesterday’s party.

The Sun is one of the most widely read newspapers in the UK.

 

9. Before the names of most hotels and restaurants

Examples:

I’ve booked us a table at the Canopy, owned by the famous chef Marcus.

Let’s meet at the Swan, the pub near Graeme’s house.

 

Remember, this rule does not apply if the hotel or restaurant is named after a person.

 

10. Before the names of families

Examples:

We’re having dinner with the Watsons tonight.

The Kanes are an amazingly talented bunch.

 

11. Before the names of rivers, seas, mountain groups, island groups, and deserts

Examples:

Debbie’s new apartment overlooks the Thames.

My uncle and aunt are holidaying in the West Indies.

The Sahara is the largest hot desert in the world.

 

12. Before the names of most museums, art galleries, monuments, and famous buildings

Examples:

The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, is a spectacular structure.

Have you ever been to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra?

 

And here’s something interesting to end with: the definite article is pronounced differently depending on what word follows it. If it appears before a word beginning with a consonant sound, we pronounce it like ‘thuh’; if it is before a word beginning with a vowel sound, we pronounce it like ‘thee’.

A Quick Guide to Articles (Part 2)

 

 

 

In a previous post, we looked at the indefinite article, a or an, and when to use it. In this one, we’ll talk about the use of the definite article the.

 

When to use the

Unlike the indefinite variety, the definite article is used to talk about a noun that is specific. Its presence in a sentence suggests that the speaker and listener, or the writer and reader, both clearly understand which noun is being referred to.

 

Here are some situations when the indefinite article the is commonly used.

  1. Referring to something that has already been mentioned

Examples:

I had some pizza and a glass of lemonade. The pizza was so tasty!  

Did you know that a couple met with an accident right here yesterday? The woman is still in a coma.  

 

  1. Referring to something which the listener is already familiar with

Examples:

I’m going to the supermarket. Would you like something?

[The listener knows that the speaker is talking about a specific store, where they usually buy things]

 

Where is the cookery book? I can’t find it in the kitchen.

[The listener knows that the speaker is talking about a specific book which they usually keep in the kitchen]

 

  1. Before superlative forms (e.g. tallest, shortest, fastest, most beautiful), as there is generally just one in a group which can be the tallest, fastest, most beautiful, etc.

Examples:

My dad’s office is located in the tallest building in our city.

She is the most beautiful girl in my town.

 

  1. Assuming there is only one thing of a kind somewhere

Examples:

Excuse me, can you please direct me to the cafeteria?

[The speaker assumes that there is only one cafeteria in the area]

 

Let’s go to that new mall on Orchard Street. I’ll meet you in the car park at around 11.

[The speaker assumes that the mall has just one car park]

 

  1. Referring to unique people or things

Examples:

The principal has called for an emergency meeting.

[There is usually just one principal in a college/university]

 

The sun rises in the east and sets in the west.

[There is only one star by the name sun in the solar system]

 

The definite article is the most frequently used word in English, so we’ll be back soon with more on its use.

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