I have met such sentence in my tutorial text:

"Today my brother has announced that he is going to enter the university next year. I wondered if he had thought it over properly. He would be able to pass all the exams providing he studies at full speed, wouldn't he?"

I wonder if we can use "would" with present tense in the conditional clause. I feel that it may have something with subjunctive uncertainty, but I'm not sure. All grammar rules I've found prescribe to use "will" instead of "would" in this example, as it is 1st conditional. Can you tell me, please, if such usage is ok and how can it be explained grammatically?

Another example I've met on this forum while trying to browse the answer to my question (It was a part of the answer to a related question, but it didn't clarify the usage rules):

"If you are a mathematician, and understand the conjugal relationship between real and imaginary numbers, you would see that the subjunctive is the imaginary conjugate of the real world.

  • What does your proposed new version look like? What I don't get is the use of 'studies', as I'd expect studied. At the end example, I'd expect 'If you were...and understood...you would see.' Or, 'if you are...you should see.' Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 3:37
  • I should have provided the full abstract: "My brother has announced that he is going to enter the university next year. I wondered if he had thought it over properly. He would be able to pass all the exams providing he studies at full speed". It means that he hasn't tried yet and it is a possible situation in the future unless his brother doesn't believe in it (then "studied" is supposed to be used). I'd use will/studies in the first example and were/would in the second one, so I'm confused about mixing 1st and 2nd conditionals and wonder if it can be grammatically correct in some situations. Commented Jul 29, 2017 at 23:00
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    Marta, there so much in there that begs to be re-phrased, it's almost impossible to say anything useful. That said, should is prolly more idomatic and just as grammatical as would… as can be seen much more clearly in your conjugal maths example, which needs either If you are… you should see or If you were… you would see Commented Jul 30, 2017 at 0:51

1 Answer 1



The passage you cite has various verb form inconsistencies and the ungrammatical use of 'the' in the phase 'enter the university next year'. You state that the passage comes from a tutorial text. Perhaps you could give a little more information about both the passage and the tutorial text, together with the task that is based on them.


That aside, the main issue here is how to construct conditional sentences. This is a tricky issue for non-native English learners, and many pedagogic grammars try to simplify it by reducing the possibilities to three - which they call the First, Second and Third Conditionals. Certainly, these are three common patterns, but I would be very wary of any grammar rules 'prescribing' the use of the present tense in the if-clause (protasis) when using 'will + infinitive' in the main clause (apodosis) - or vice versa.

As Michael Lewis points out in the section on Conditional Sentences in The English Verb: An Exploration of Structure and Meaning (p148):

It is the verb phrase not the sentence which is the fundamental unit requiring analysis. Certain combinations are, for semantic reasons, highly frequent, while others are less frequent or even impossible. ...

A particular misunderstanding frequently arises in the teaching of so-called conditional sentences. It is common to teach three basic kinds. ...

[Lewis gives examples]

If students are taught only the first, second and third conditionals, they will know only a small, admittedly highly frequent, sub-set of the possibilities. It is not necessary to teach the fourth conditional, the fifth conditional, etc., but it is important to recognise that the possibility arises from the meaning of the individual clauses ... . The explanation of the use of a form in a conditional sentence is exactly the same as that of its occurrence in any other utterance.

The underlying principle behind this is that each main verb phrase is treated independently.

Applying this explanation to your example sentence, the speaker is probably using 'would' (He would be able to pass all the exams) rather than 'will' (He will be able to pass all the exams) to express doubt that 'he' has thought it over and is going to pass the exams.

As to the second clause, 'studied' is the more likely form in this context, and would conform to the common Conditional 2 pattern. But perhaps the speaker is expressing the simple fact that exam success is assured if studying is done at full speed.

Examples of 'mixed conditionals'

Mixing the so-called first and second conditionals in this way is not uncommon. Below are several authentic examples from Google. That said, if you are studying for English exams, you are probably better advised to stick to the 'prescribed' patterns.

Walter hopes that if we can become rich, he would be able to provide a better life for his family.

If God is omnipotent, he would be able to prevent all of the evil.

If I am fortunate enough to be selected for a grant, I would be able to pay for child care.

If your portfolio manages to offer an annual return of 12 per cent, you would be able to create a corpus of Rs 1 crore in 25.5 years.

If this is the case, you would be able to claim the new 20pc tax credit.

If all goes to plan, you would be able to be play an emulated NES game within an emulated GameCube game.

If you follow the 4% rule, you would be able to withdraw at least $40,000 a year during retirement.

You would be able to get 82.5 servings of beer if each serving is 12 ounce.

  • Shoe, thank you so much for such a detailed answer! This is a really tricky thing for a non-native speaker. When trying to express the subtle nuances using mixed conditionals I always guess if it sounds weird and ungrammatical or not. Am I right that 'would be able' in these cases shows possibility but uncertainty: one will have an opportunity to do smth. but may not use it? Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 23:23
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    My passage is from task keys of a Russian to English translation practice tutorial that's why I questioned it. It is the very beginning of the text, so 'the university' may be a mistake, though the following passages reveal that the concrete university was meant. Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 23:24
  • @MartaPrelle. Thanks for the explanation of the source of the passage. To me there were signs that it wasn't uttered by a native speaker in a real context - in which case it is problematic to attempt an analysis. The "would be able" in an apodosis clause conveys that a future action will be possible if some condition is met, but that there is uncertainty and doubt as to whether that condition will be met. This uncertainty would normally be expressed with the past tense in the protasis also (conditional 2). But as you see from the examples I gave, this is not always the case.
    – Shoe
    Commented Aug 1, 2017 at 5:55
  • There's a long discussion on mixed conditionals here: forum.wordreference.com/threads/… And here are a few more mixed conditionals using the same base - found on Google from what appear to me to be native speakers: If I win I would buy for sure the Charmaine platforms. - If I win $25 QC, I'd use it towards some templates and the layer cake. - If I win, I would spend it on some walking shoes for my daughter. - So if I win, I would buy paint for her. - If I win I would spoil my 2 year old boy and 6 year old girl.
    – Shoe
    Commented Aug 1, 2017 at 5:56
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    @vincentlin. Probably what is happening in this variety of mixed tense conditional is that the speaker starts with a simple hypothesis ("If I win the lottery") and then needs to express the unlikelihood of this happening, hence the "would" in the main clause. (It is generally the case that speakers proceed from clause to clause. They don't usually plan the whole of a complex sentence in advance.) So, yes, "would" expresses more uncertainty here than "will".
    – Shoe
    Commented Jan 21, 2021 at 11:55

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