I don't know what's going on with me lately. I've never had this question before and it was never an issue for me while writing something but two weeks ago I started to think about whether I should use verbs with or without -s after third person pronouns.

First, let's analyze an example in the first person:

I don't wanna do this, but if I do, would you leave me alone?

In this example, "If I do" isn't in the present tense because I'm not saying I do something, I'm saying I could do.

Now the problem comes. Let's analyze this same sentence in the third person:

She doesn't wanna do this, but if she DO, would you leave her alone?

Again this is not the present tense. I'm saying she could DO and not she DOES.

Another one:

The project she presented was a mess. If she FAIL with another one she'll be fired.

I'm not saying she FAILS, I'm saying she could FAIL.

Do you guys understand what my question is? I don't have problem in using verbs in the present tense like "She works very hard". The problem is when the verb isn't in the present tense and it's preceded by a third person pronoun.

So, which is the correct form? Which of these two variants should I say, and why?

  1. The project she presented was a mess. If she FAIL with another one she'll be fired.

  2. The project she presented was a mess. If she FAILS with another one she'll be fired.

  • @Pierre.A What verb form is "wanna"? – TrevorD Dec 30 '16 at 14:38
  • @TrevorD short form of want to – Pierre.A Dec 30 '16 at 14:41
  • @Pierre.A In your 3rd para., you are not saying "if she could do" - you are saying "if she does do". – TrevorD Dec 30 '16 at 14:43
  • @Pierre.A I would say that "wanna" is a slang/sloppy form of "want to", which is not appropriate on an English language forum! – TrevorD Dec 30 '16 at 14:45
  • @TrevorD So could you clearly tell me I should speak "If she does; If she fails"? Is "The project she presented was a mess. If she FAILS with another one she'll be fired" the correct form? – Pierre.A Dec 30 '16 at 14:57

TLDR: The if part of present conditionals never takes a subjunctive form in present-day English, only an indicative one. You’re incorrectly trying to apply Portuguese rules for conditionals in English, but English does not work like Portuguese!

The examples you have presented are not grammatical in present day English because if clauses like the ones you’ve shown take a tensed verb:

The project she presented was a mess. If she *fail with another one she'll be fired.

That is ungrammatical. It needs to be like this:

The project she presented was a mess. If she fails with another one she'll be fired.

In the English of a far more ancient vintage than you will ever casually come across, we did at one point use a present subjunctive inflection there, and later an untensed infinitive, but that was long ago and for the most part far away.

Lusophone Excursions: For speakers of Portuguese only

  • WARNING: To illustrate why this is wrong in a way the original poster can best understand it, I below show contrasting examples of the same sort of conditional in English and Portuguese. I also demonstrate that English has changed in its treatment of these over the best few hundred year, but that Portuguese has not. Lastly, I show that Spanish practice has split off from following the Portuguese practice to following the English one during that same period.

You seem to be attempting to “calque” Portuguese conditionals into English. Portuguese employs for these a special form which the Portuguese call the futuro do conjuctivo (future conjunctive) and the Brazilians futuro do subjuntivo (future subjunctive). These are not indicative forms in Portuguese the way they are in English and in Spanish:

  • EN: If she fails at another project, she’ll be fired. —present indicative
  • PT: Se ela falhar em outro projeto, (ela) será demitida. —future subjunctive
  • ES: Si (ella) falla en otro proyecto, será despedida. —present indicative

The Portuguese would obviously* read ela falha not ela falhar there if it were in the indicative not the subjunctive, but this is not supposed to be indicative in Portuguese the way it is supposed to be in English. You’re trying to do the same thing in English, calquing the Portuguese conditional forms into English in ways that don’t make sense to native speakers of English. You should use the indicative in English here, just as speakers of your sister language Spanish now also do.

* “Obvious” to thee and to me, but probably to few other readers here.

Of Boys and Bulls: What happens when your raging bull gravely injures your neighbor

Once upon a time when the language was young, English actually did use a “modally marked form” (call it subjunctive if you must) there in its if clauses, but no longer. By way of example, please consider the following Early Modern English from the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible published in 1611. There we read for verse 29 from Exodus 21:

  • [KJV] If an ox gore a man or a woman, that they die: then the ox shall be surely stoned, and his flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall be quit.

That’s what you’re trying to do, but we don’t do that any longer in English. Here’s how that same verse runs in the so-called “King James Version 2000” (KJV2000) translation:

  • [KJV2000] If an ox gores a man or a woman, that they die: then the ox shall be surely stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall be clear.

So instead of “if an ox gore” in the Early Modern English, we now say “if an ox gores”. If you try to use the English of 400 years ago, particularly in ordinary conversation, most people will be confused and few will understand you correctly. They’ll think you’re making a mistake — which you would be. It would be just like speaking Portuguese today the way it was spoken back when Camõens wrote Os Lusíadas in the Sixteenth Century. You’d just confuse people.

For cultural comparison, here’s how that verse was translated into the Portuguese of its day by Antônio Pereira de Figueiredo a couple hundred years ago:

  • [Pereira] Se hum touro ferir com as suas pontas hum homem, ou huma mulher, e elles morrerem isso, apedrejar-se-ha o touro, e não se lhe comerá a carne; mas o dono o touro será innocente.

Even though that uses the same inflections of its verbs as Modern Portuguese uses, it sure is funny to read and funny to say, isn’t it? The style of speaking and the words chosen have changed considerably as you will see when you compare what you have just now read above with two versions in Modern Portuguese (where the touro has become a boi :) as follows:

  • [O Livro] Se um boi escornear um homem ou uma mulher, tirando­lhe a vida, o boi terá de ser apedrejado e não comerá a sua carne. Mas o dono do animal não será culpado de nada.

  • [NVI-PT] Se um boi chifrar um homem ou uma mulher, causando-lhe a morte, o boi terá que ser apedrejado até a morte, e a sua carne não poderá ser comida. Mas o dono do boi será absolvido.

So unlike English, Portuguese still uses a subjunctive there just as it did hundreds of years ago. But English does not. The English loss of the subjunctive there parallels the loss of the subjunctive in Spanish over the same period. Here’s how it ran in the Reina-Valera Antigua translation back when Spanish still used the future subjunctive for this sort of if clauses:

  • [RVA] Si un buey acorneare hombre ó mujer, y de resultas muriere, el buey será apedreado, y no se comerá su carne; mas el dueño del buey será absuelto.

Even though that old sort of Spanish should be especially easy for Portuguese speakers to read because of its old words and old verb forms, people today no more talk that way in Spanish than they do in English. The Modern Spanish translation in the Castilian NIV runs:

  • [CST] Si un toro cornea y mata a un hombre o a una mujer, se matará al toro a pedradas y no se comerá su carne. En tal caso, no se hará responsable al dueño del toro.


If as a Portuguese speaker you are going to speak English (or even Spanish) in a way that makes sense to native speakers of those other languages, you must shed your Lusophonic sensibilities about how present conditionals work and use only indicative forms not subjunctive ones in the if parts of these sorts of conditionals.

Postscript on calques and calquing

When you calque something from one language to another, you translate its original so literally that it risks losing its sense in the new language. Wiktionary says that a calque is:

A word or phrase in a language formed by word-for-word or morpheme-by-morpheme translation of a word in another language.

The Portuguese Wikipedia entry for that word starts out:

Em linguística, e mais precisamente em lexicologia, etimologia e linguística comparada, chama-se calque, calco ou decalque a um procedimento de formação de palavras que consiste em cunhar novos termos mediante a tradução de vocábulos estrangeiros e conforme as estruturas da língua de origem. É um tipo de empréstimo léxico particular, no qual o termo emprestado foi traduzido literalmente de uma língua para a outra, considerando mais a forma do que a ideia.

  • 1
    Thank you. That's the answer I was hoping to get. But I wasn't thinking in Portuguese when this question came to my mind. I just wasn't sure that verbs followed by -s could be used in more ways than the present tense itself. PS: This construction "Si (ella) falla en otro proyecto, será despedida" isn't correct only in Spanish. In Portuguese we can say "Se ela falha em outro projeto, será despedida" as well. – Pierre.A Dec 30 '16 at 16:34
  • @Pierre.A If for you in Portuguese both “Se ela falha...” and also “Se ela falhar...” are possible, how do those “feel” different to you? Is one more formal? Does one express increased or decreased likelihood compared with the other? I ask because I wanted to mention that in English we can in “dry and stuffy” formal speech and writing say “If she should fail...” or even more formally to the point of being poetic or archaic “Should she fail...” as a bare conditional using inversion instead of the written word if. It may be that those seem less likely than the normal spoken versions. – tchrist Dec 30 '16 at 16:52
  • Look, it's gonna be hard to explain this but let's try. I suppose you speak Portuguese so I'll write all the examples in PT. When you thinking about the consequences of an act, you're talking about this, you're not being emphatic: "A carreira dela está em risco, porque se ela falha em outro projeto, (poderá ser) será despedida". Now you're being emphatic: "Não tem mais o que discutir. Se ela falhar em outro projeto, será despedida". – Pierre.A Dec 30 '16 at 17:24

Okay, so I think I understand your question as asking "Which form of the verb do I need to use after the conditional sentence (if clause)?"

To answer this question you need to know that there are 3 types of Conditions.
I - condition possible to fulfill
II - condition in theory possible to fulfill
III - condition not possible to fulfill (too late)

And the corresponding forms:
I - Simple Present: will-future or (Modal + infinitive)
II - Simple Past: would + infinitive
III - Past Perfect: would + have + past participle

Furthermore, as mentioned before, every verb can (or has to be) placed in a time/tense. I think you have to check which tense fits your if-clauses. For more information on this: http://www.englisch-hilfen.de/en/grammar/if.htm

I hope I answered your question.

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