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I really cannot understand why the sentence is correct and what type of conditional it is.

If Julie went to the party last night, she definitely saw what happened.

Other examples that confuse me: If you don't know the answer, you didn't do your homework. If the results didn't come out yesterday, they will come out today.

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The conditionals taught in EFL lessons are taught as examples of how conditionals can be. They aren't meant to be models of every type of conditional. They are meant to be patterns to practice when you are starting to learn the language. They shouldn't be understood as an exhaustive description of every type of tense and modal verb possible in conditional sentences.

There are really only two types of conditionals, those that use tense in the same way as other sentences and those that use backshifted verb forms ( examples of which would be those conditionals termed second or third conditionals in language teaching).

In the Original Poster's example, the tenses are being used in the normal way. In other words, the past simple verb forms are just being used to indicate past time.

The sentence just indicates that the speaker guarantees the truth of Julie saw what happened if the proposition Julie went to the party is true.

  • Are such forms common in English? I wonder why the points you mentioned cannot be found in any grammar books. – Sahar Jan 14 '16 at 10:27
  • @Sahar I think the main reason is that you don't need to know any special grammar to understand them. With 'first conditionals' you need to remember that we don't usually use will in the if-clause. With second and third you need to practice using the past tense for the future and the past perfect for the past. But with conditionals like your one, you don't need to know any special grammar. The tenses and verb forms are like in any normal sentence. – Araucaria Jan 14 '16 at 10:45
  • @Sahar Yes, these types of conditional that aren't first second or third are quite common! :-) – Araucaria Jan 14 '16 at 10:48
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I taught at an American English institute that categorized conditionals based on "real" (zero/first) or "unreal" (second/third). In either case conditional sentences can be "mixed" rather than following the standard setup.

The examples listed are examples of mixed real conditionals.

"If Julie went to the party last night, she definitely saw what happened."

This is referring to a real event rather than a hypothetical one and refers to two past actions. Both clauses can be changed to represent different times.

ie: If Julie went to the party last night, she probably won't go out tonight.

This is based on a real situation and a prediction about the future.

The "unreal" conditionals can be mixed as well.

ie: If you had won $100 yesterday at the casino, would you go out to dinner with us tonight?

This is based on an unreal event (you didn't win the money yesterday) and offering a hypothetical situation about the future (going out to dinner tonight).

  • I agree with those two categorisations (the terminology isn't important), but I don't see why you say they're mixed? – Araucaria Jan 13 '16 at 0:14
  • I think the terminology is a bit confusing as well. But I thought the idea of real and unreal would help. They called it mixed because it didn't follow the standard form: zero = present, present (If it rains, no one goes outside) 1st = present, future (If it rains tomorrow, I won't go to the park.) 2nd = past, modal (If I had $10,000, I would buy a car.) 3rd = past perfect, past modal (If I had won the lottery last year, I would have moved to Dubai.) – Joyo Jan 14 '16 at 12:55
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    Whereas, a "mixed" conditional can have tons of different variations. "If you had won the lottery, would you buy that Lambourghini?" "If you were at the party yesterday, why do you not remember seeing John?" I'm not saying it's perfect, but it's just how this book categorized it. – Joyo Jan 14 '16 at 12:55

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