I often hear people say that native English speakers don't make grammatical mistakes. But I don't understand the use of conditional statements as most people don't really pay much attention to the verb agreements of the two clauses, specially in the case of hypothetical present and future. Here are some examples:

The worst outcome would be if Apple wins a large judgment. Read more on The New Yorker

If the NATO troops do pull back, it would leave vast areas of the country unprotected including border areas with Pakistan. It would essentially mean the end of the strategy of trying to win hearts and minds by working with and protecting the local populations. From AP.

I have heard numerous native speakers use the same structure in spoken English. Can we say this is acceptable grammatically or is it me being a bit too thick to see the thin line?

  • 3
    Native speakers definitely do make grammatical mistakes.
    – Frantisek
    Aug 22, 2012 at 7:20
  • 2
    Like what I do. Aug 22, 2012 at 7:31
  • 4
    'There certainly are rules of grammar that you shouldn't break, but it does you no good at all to have false beliefs about what the rules are.' Geoffrey Pullum Aug 22, 2012 at 7:42
  • @Noah, Are you looking for 'were to win' instead of 'wins'?
    – Jim
    Aug 22, 2012 at 7:45
  • @Jim: It's not about that; I just want to find out if the above structure is acceptable. According to the rules, it should either be your version or won; or change would to will.
    – Noah
    Aug 22, 2012 at 7:52

1 Answer 1


The normal requirement is for the sentence to be either ‘The worst outcome will be if Apple wins a large judgment’ (it’s quite likely to happen) or ‘The worst outcome would be if Apple won a large judgment’ (it might possibly happen).

However, other combinations are possible in conditional sentences. In the ‘Cambridge Grammar of English’, Carter and McCarthy consider conditional clauses by the degree to which they refer to real or unreal situations, noticing that ‘a wide variety of patterns occur with real conditionals.’ An example of one of the patterns they illustrate is ‘If that’s on the disk, we should have it on our system.’ There, the verb in the if clause, (i)’s, is in the present tense and the verb in the main clause is the modal verb should followed by the plain form of have. Your example follows the same pattern. The verb in the if clause is present tense wins and the verb in the main clause is the modal verb would followed by the plain form of be.

The second example also follows this pattern. We can ignore for this purpose the emphatic use of do and say that the verb in the if clause, pull back, is in the present tense and that the verb in the main clause is would followed by the plain form of leave.

  • I added another example that doesn't use be.
    – Noah
    Aug 22, 2012 at 8:23
  • @Noah: I don't see that that makes any difference, since in your first example 'be' is used as a lexical verb, not an auxiliary verb. I haved edited my answer accordingly anyway. Aug 22, 2012 at 8:28
  • I will agree, but most native speakers won't. If you have time, please read the answer and comments in this question by Daniel. english.stackexchange.com/questions/61320/…
    – Noah
    Aug 22, 2012 at 9:38

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