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  • If it rained tomorrow, I would go to the cinema.
  • If it didn't rain tomorrow, I would go to school.

Which conditional is the best for this use case? Is it correct to use the Second Conditional or do I have to use the First? ("If it rains tomorrow, I will go to the cinema.")

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“It is clear that a division of conditionals into the zero, first, second, and third categories does not adequately reflect actual usage.” —from “If only it were true: the problem with the four conditionals”, Christian Jones and Daniel Waller, ELT Journal 65:1 pp 24–32 (2011), Oxford University Press, doi: 10.1093/elt/ccp101. – tchrist Jan 24 '15 at 14:31

You could say

If it doesn't rain tomorrow, I will go to school.

or, more pompously,

If it weren't to rain tomorrow, I would go to school.

The problem is, you're mixing past and future conditions. In both cases, it can't have rained tomorrow.

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I do not know why, but your weren’t version doesn’t quite balance right for me. I can do If it were to, but something about If it weren’t to bothers me. I think it is because were is already hypotheticking it, so you don’t need negation. Like how whether or not doesn’t need but the first word of those. – tchrist Jan 13 '13 at 18:13
I agree with @tchrist, the second seems more hypothetical. E.g. "What would you tomorrow if you were back home for the holidays?" "Well, if it weren't to rain...". – Jon Hanna Jan 13 '13 at 20:06

It depends on how likely the conditional event is, or how likely you would like to portray it as.

For a conditional clause expressing a possible future event, you have two choices: (i) put the inflected verb in present form, or (ii) put the inflected verb in preterite form. Use option (ii) if the contemplated event is unlikely or being posed as if contrary to fact. Use of the preterite does not in such a case imply past tense (and it obviously couldn't, since we're talking about a future event), it is instead called the "modal preterite", since it is used for a non-indicative mood.

The second clause should have its inflected verb in the same form as the conditional clause does.

If it rains tomorrow, I will go to the cinema. (It is likely to rain tomorrow)
If it rained tomorrow, I would go to the cinema. (There is no reason to believe that it will rain tomorrow, but it just might happen)

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@FumbleFingers: Would the following sentence be acceptable? (would it express conditionality by using the "modal preterite" in the "non-indicative mood")? Here it is: "If it were to rain tomorrow, I would go to the movies." By the way, I do not pretend to understand jlovegren's insights, but I'm willing to investigate them further. Thanks for motivating me to do so. Don – rhetorician Jan 15 '13 at 17:33
@rhetorician "if it were to rain" uses the irrealis form of [be], "if it was to rain" uses the modal preterite." possibly useful link – jlovegren Jan 15 '13 at 23:32

I am not comfortable with the sentence "If it rained tomorrow, I would go to the cinema." "If it rained" speaks of a future event in the past tense, which is not logical. When hypothesizing about tomorrow, logic demands you use the present tense; for example, "If it rains tomorrow, I will go to the cinema" (or to show resoluteness or determination, I suppose you could say "If it rains tomorrow, I go to the cinema"). As for Robusto's "If it weren't to rain tomorrow, I would go to school," I can't wrap my head around the phrase "If it weren't to rain tomorrow," but then maybe I'm just a little thick!

Here's another variation on the theme: "If it rains tomorrow, I go to the cinema; if it doesn't, I go to school."

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Idiomatically speaking, it's perfectly normal to use past tense in such constructions. As The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Linguistics says here, one of the roles of past tense is to convey distance from the reality of the present. So as @jlovegren says, in a "conditional" constructions, there's a greater implication of improbability. – FumbleFingers Jan 13 '13 at 19:08

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