I'm not an English speaker. Even though I do understand conditional statements that are written by others but when it comes to my turn I still feel confused and don't really know how to organize it.

  1. If you had not been here I would have been here.
  2. If you were here I would be here.
  3. If you are here I will be here.

I understand the 'time line' of verb tenses like this: [past perfect] - [past] - [present perfect] - [present] - [future perfect] - [future] Following this if the conditional statement suggests the sequence of the events they should be :

  1. If you had not been here I would be here.
  2. If you were here I would've been here.
  3. If you are here I will have been here.

May I please have your help on this? I know it's quite basic but I couldn't find any clear explanation on the net.

1 Answer 1


I'm afraid conditional sentences in English have nothing or next to nothing to do with the sequence of tenses in 'time line'.

a. When you're talking about some possibility in the future, you use present simple in conditional and future simple in main clause.

If you hand in your report tomorrow, the teacher will forgive you.

b. When you're talking about something, happening at the time of speaking, then you use past simple in the conditional and future-in-the-past in main clause. My English language teacher called this kind of conditional "next to impossible" - maybe, just maybe the conditional is fulfilled and the main clause then will take place.

If he handed in his report, the teacher would forgive him.

Meaning that he, whoever he is, can amend whatever transgression he made by handing in his report no later than the time I said this phrase.

c. When you're talking about something in the past, then you use past perfect in conditional and future perfect in main clause. By analogy, it's an "impossible" kind of conditional - something already didn't happen, but if it happened when it should have, then...

If he had handed in his report yesterday, the teacher would have forgiven him.

He didn't hand in his report in time, and lost any chance of being forgiven.

  • I disagree with the "next to impossible" explanation. "If you took the time to read the passage carefully, you'd surely understand" doesn't mean it's next to impossible the person will do it; it just implies that they haven't yet (and probably should have). The emphasis seems to be on being late, not on being unlikely to do the thing at all. It could also be entirely neutral: "If you stopped by, I'd be so pleased." If I wanted to express something next to impossible, I'd probably use "were" in place of "if" - "Were he to (just) hand in his report..."
    – user13141
    Commented Sep 28, 2011 at 12:20
  • @onomatomaniak: The "next to impossible" version of your example would be "If you had taken the time to read the passage carefully, you'd have surely understood". As Philoto implies, this really is impossible unless you can go back in time and change what you already have done. Commented Sep 28, 2011 at 16:25

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