3

What type of if-conditional is this sentence?

A shop offered us a reduction if we paid in cash.

As far as I know, the only right conditional sentences are these four:

Zero Conditional:

  • A shop offer us a reduction if we pay in cash.

First Conditional:

  • A shop will offer us a reduction if we pay in cash.

Second Conditional:

  • A shop would offer us a reduction if we paid in cash.

Third Conditional:

  • A shop would have offered us a reduction if we have paid in cash.

But I cannot tell which of those four it is.

  • 2
    What’s your question? BTW 1 & 2 are grammatically correct, 0 & 4 are not. – James McLeod Feb 2 at 15:37
  • In terms of sentences that sound natural (aside from fixing the problems with 0 and 3), I would use discount rather than reduction. – Jason Bassford Feb 2 at 15:39
  • 2
    What makes you think there are only four constructions possible in if-conditionals? The one you seem to be asking about is neither of those four constructions, yet it is perfectly grammatical. You can think of it as a shortened form of “The shop offered [that it would give] us a reduction if we paid in cash”, which matches your #2 better. It could also have been “The shop offered us a reduction if we’d pay in cash” or any number of other constructions. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 2 at 16:35
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    This is a set of construction blueprints called the "first conditional", etc. in many non-Anglophone schools in the world. Somebody somewhere published a book that said there were these four constructions with very complicated rules for use, and it was so authoritatively stated that every non-native English teacher has used it since (to judge by the questions here). It's nonsense, of course; but students who got it in their English classes believe it implicitly. Like future tense, subjunctive mood, and unsplit infinitives. – John Lawler Feb 2 at 17:16
  • 3
    As John’s comment above says, that is wrong. Conditionals come in many forms, not just four. The sentence is perfectly correct as it is. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 2 at 18:53
1

A canonical second conditional as defined in English language teaching pedagogy has would + infinitive in the main clause (apodosis) and past simple in the if-clause (protasis). For example:

I would retire if I won the lottery.

Such a construction is used to predict what will happen in the future, if a certain condition is met. It contrasts with the first conditional ('I will retire if I win the lottery'), in that it expresses a greater scepticism that the condition will be met.

The sentence:

A shop offered us a reduction if we paid in cash

is not about the future. It is not necessarily conveying a prediction or hypothesis. The main clause is about an action that took place in the past (The shop offered us a reduction), hence the simple past tense.

The past tense in if-clause is somewhat more problematic to analyse. It could also be in the past simple tense because it refers to a past action. And the if could be replaced by when (or whenever for a series of actions) or even every time.

The shop offered us a reduction when/whenever we paid in cash.

A shop offered us a reduction every time we paid in cash.

Alternatively, the sentence could be interpreted as a type of reported speech, in which the reported clause exhibits the typical backshift.

The shop assistant said: "I will offer you a reduction if you pay in cash."

The shop assistant offered us a reduction if we paid in cash.

The comments elsewhere about the four conditionals are pertinent, although I draw the line at calling them 'lies'. It is certainly the case, however, that you should not expect every sentence with an if-clause to follow one of the four common patterns.

  • Great answer, thank you! How ofter do people talk that way? – Sagid Feb 3 at 17:55
  • @Sagid, I would imagine that this is a common construction. Three examples that I have just concocted: "My teacher shouted at me if I made a mistake", "The manager offered him $50 if he scored a goal", "He helped me if I helped him". – Shoe Feb 3 at 18:22
  • I think the direct reported speech should be something like this: The shop assistant offered, "I will give you a reduction if you pay in cash". – JK2 Feb 4 at 1:34
0

A shop offered us a reduction [if we paid in cash].

This construction is peculiar, albeit grammatical, in the sense that the bracketed portion doesn't function as an adjunct to the matrix clause (A shop offered us a reduction), since you cannot have the following as an equivalent construction:

?If we paid in cash, a shop offered us a reduction.

Rather, the bracketed portion functions as an adjunct to--or a modifier of--the noun reduction, which means that it's part of the noun phrase (a reduction if we paid in cash).

You can prove this by fronting the noun phrase as follows:

A reduction if we paid in cash, a shop offered us.

Or by passivation:

A reduction if we paid in cash was offered to us by a shop.

Or by clefting:

It was a reduction if we paid in cash that a shop offered us.

What a shop offered us was a reduction if we paid in cash.

EDIT

If the bracketed portion were an adjunct to the main clause, fronting/passivation/clefting constructions would be like this, respectively:

?A reduction a shop offered us, if we paid in cash.

?A reduction was offered to us by a shop if we paid in cash.

?It was a reduction that a shop offered us if we paid in cash.

?What a shop offered us if we paid in cash was a reduction.

I don't believe any of these can mean the same thing as the OP's sentence. Therefore, it's clear that the bracketed portion is not an adjunct to the main clause.

-1

The sentence you originally presented is not only perfectly grammatical, it is perfectly natural and extremely common in all forms of English written and spoken alike, properties notably lacking in several of the four sentences you offered as possible alternatives. (However, we do not do proofreading here, and the errors in your alternatives are too elementary for our site.)

This is not even a traditional if-then condition in reverse order, since it means something other than:

  • If we paid in cash, then a shop offered us a reduction (in price).

Rather, it means something more like these, ordered from least to most natural-sounding:

  • One shop was willing to give us a discount if only we would pay in cash.
  • One shop was willing to give us a discount if we paid in cash.
  • One shop was willing to give us a discount if we paid cash.
  • One shop was willing to give us a discount in return for paying in cash.
  • One shop was willing to give us a discount for paying in cash.
  • One shop was willing to give us a discount for paying cash.
  • One shop offered a discount for a cash payment.
  • One shop offered a cash discount.

So that original sentence does not really offer the traditional protasis and apodosis found in conditional constructions.


“More things in heaven and earth...”

As Hamlet wryly observed:

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

And this is the crux of your entire problem here. That “as far as I know” part of your question is based on a disastrously erroneous premise, for the world is filled with infinitely many more undreamt things than have ever troubled your restless dreams. And for thing, here read grammatical English conditional construction.

Addressing this central matter in a comment, John Lawler wrote:

This is a set of construction blueprints called the "first conditional", etc. in many non-Anglophone schools in the world. Somebody somewhere published a book that said there were these four constructions with very complicated rules for use, and it was so authoritatively stated that every non-native English teacher has used it since (to judge by the questions here). It's nonsense, of course; but students who got it in their English classes believe it implicitly. Like future tense, subjunctive mood, and unsplit infinitives.

And in my answer to the ELL question Difference between “if + present, will + infinitive” and “if + present, would + infinitive”, I observe:

But it does learners a disservice to pretend that these few possibilities are the only the ones that exist or the only ones which are grammatical.³ They do not even reflect actual usage by native speakers, as Christian Jones and Daniel Waller observe in their journal entry from the English Language Teaching Journal titled “If only it were true: the problem with the four conditionals”¹ when they write:

It is clear that a division of conditionals into the zero, first, second, and third categories does not adequately reflect actual usage.

If you actually look at corpus occurrences, as they have done, you find that many of the modal combinations frequently found in speech and writing by native speakers are simply not explained to beginners. By attempting to deflect learners from common errors, these errors of omission lead to even more confusion. And this can do genuine harm, as explained below.

Professor Lawler has also elsewhere in a comment written, with bold emphasis my own:

They're just mostly-safe combinations of if..then clause types; they're not tenses and they don't cover every possibility. Linguists don't have names for the Zero-thru-N types you mentioned, and not for any others that some textbook writer might dream up, either. Generally there is a hypothetical clause of some sort and a conclusion clause of some sort; but there are hundreds of possible combinations, and they rarely have to do with tense -- too much depends on the type of condition and its results, which can vary all over the lot.

Finally, if perchance you fancy something else to count than sheep while you lie in bed sleepless from undreamt nightmares of numberless infinities of English conditional constructions, you might find diversion in studying my enumeratively enlightening answer to How many conditional types are possible? — preferably with tongue lodged firmly in whichever cheek it is that most ails you.


  1. ELT Journal 65:1 pp 24–32 (2011), Oxford University Press, doi: 10.1093/elt/ccp101.
  • Unbelievable that someone has the gall to actually write (However, we do not do proofreading here, and the errors in your alternatives are too elementary for our site.) Oh, it's beneath you to gently explain that he forgot to add an "s" in "offers" (Zero C) Is it not possible it was a typo? And to explain that the past perfect is needed in "if we had paid" in (4th C). – Mari-Lou A Feb 3 at 9:22
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    This is such a snarky and condescending answer, poor guy. Let's all pretend shall we that ELT books are not written primarily for learners of the English language who need the basic language tools to achieve successful communication. The so-called four conditionals, actually do a pretty good enough job. In fact, you can go along life without memorising every single possible combination and still be considered a fluent and competent speaker. However, it is the teacher's responsibility to show her/his students that real English is messier and less than perfect than many are led to believe – Mari-Lou A Feb 3 at 9:26
  • Oh, there's also a thing called mixed conditionals, which has been conveniently omitted in everyone's remarks and answers. – Mari-Lou A Feb 3 at 9:27
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA Where in your quoted site (including the "mixed" conditionals) is there an example/explanation of the conditional construction where the protasis is not an adjunct to the apodosis but to a noun or noun phrase, as in the OP? – JK2 Feb 4 at 2:34

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