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If We Could Try This - Conditional

Quiz playing is a wonderful way to increase your knowledge of English as a Second Language. Remember that all of our ESL quizzes have titles that are both friendly and technical at the same time… In the case of this quiz you might like to tell your friends about “If We Could Try This” but no doubt your teachers will talk about the “Conditional quiz”! If you hear a technical term and you want to find a quiz about the subject then just look through the list of quiz titles until you find what you need.

This 'If we could try this' quiz looks at conditional verbs.

One of the special advantages that humans have (English and others!) is that with language, we can explore alternative plans: what we would do in certain circumstances, how we might make things better etc. To explore these theoretical ideas we use the conditional form of verbs.

As in many languages, certain established 'sequences of tenses' are used in setting up such sentences: 'I would not do that if I were you' is a well-known example.

How smart are you at forming such sentences? If we could try this quiz, we would find out!

  1. Pick the answer which fills the gap/s using the best and clearest English.
    We ... ... play football in the park if ... ... like this.
    Each verb here is in the Present form. It does not matter whether we put the 'playing' clause first, or the ' if ... rain ' clause; the overall meaning of the sentence is the same.
    Answer 2 is also valid ~ as a more general rule ('if rain, no football') rather than in any one single situation.
    Answer 3 might be how you could describe your thoughts later, looking back on the time while you didn't yet know if (or when) the rain might stop, and whether you might still get a game.
    Answer 4 is the only one which would never make full sense.
  2. Pick the answer which fills the gap/s using the best and clearest English.
    If there ... ... too many people on this bus, we ... ... ... wait for the next one.
    This is a simple sequence with a 'trigger' ('if--clause) in the Present and a possible result in the Future.
  3. Pick the answer which fills the gap/s using the best and clearest English.
    'If you ... ... the only girl in the world,
    And I ... ... the only boy,
    Nothing else ... ... matter in the world today (...)'
    (Song lyrics by Clifford Grey, 1916)
    'If one thing WERE true, something else WOULD follow' : this is the pattern. In this case there happen to be two parallel conditions (one each for her and for him).
    This was one of the classic popular love-songs during the latter half of the First World War.
  4. Pick the answer which fills the gap/s using the best and clearest English.
    'Could you please tell me the way to Killarney?'
    'Well, if I ... ... to Killarney, I ... ... start from here!'
    'If I WERE ... I WOULD (or wouldn't) ... ' : This is a very similar sequence to the one in Question 3.
    This situation is based on a classic story about the kind of answer some people might expect from an Irish person. As such, we suspect it has a very tiny element of racism in it ~ but like all jokes, it is meant in fun, and the humour (if any) lies in the alternative logic.
    We are aware that there are traditions all over the world where if people in one country want to tell a slightly silly story, they pretend it is about one of their national neighbours who is supposedly stupid. Perhaps in your own home culture, there is a tradition of making jokes about the people just across the border? (The French used to do this about the Belgians, for instance.)
  5. Pick the answer which fills the gap/s using the best and clearest English.
    If you ... ... to start a new hobby, you ... ... consider carefully what time and money you may need.
    Another pair of simple present verbs (though implying the future). This statement has the feeling about it of a 'rule' or 'truth' in life generally; such things are usually expressed using the simplest tense sequence.
  6. Pick the answer which fills the gap/s using the best and clearest English.
    'If ... ... into town later, ... ... have a lift please?'
    Answer 1 is wrong because 'I may' is the wrong way round for asking a question. Any of the other Answers is good, but No.2 is probably the best. Note that the verb in the 'if'-clause is in its Present form, even though the decisive situation has not yet started.
    Answer 3 is slightly old-fashioned and pedantic, but very polite; Answer 4 is clear and simple. Here again the 'if'-clause is in the Present (and not even its Continuous/Progressive form).
  7. Pick the answer which fills the gap/s using the best and clearest English.
    'If you ... ... the National Lottery tomorrow, what ... ... do with the money?'
    In an unlikely situation such as this, we express 'how far away it is from reality' by putting the 'if'-clause into the simple past tense (in this case, a common irregular verb, too). The unlikely result then goes into the Conditional form. ('If I did X, you would do Y.')
    The version in Answer 1 is clear and possible, but somehow feels as though it is being too direct and persuasive. The odds of winning the National Lottery in Britain are usually quoted at around 1 in 14 million (which would be about 4 winners each time, if every one of the 60-million or so in the country held one ticket each).
    Answer 2 begins with an inappropriate tense: there's nothing 'continuous' about a Lottery win ~ it either happens (once) or it doesn't.
    Answer 4 is a 'false start' since this is not how we form the past tense of 'win'.
  8. Pick the answer which fills the gap/s using the best and clearest English.
    ' ... ... it OK if we ... ... our trip to the theatre, for the weekend-after-next?'
    In a positive answer, 'it is ... if we do ... ', which is splendidly simple. Our next Question offers a similar situation in a more uncertain form, using subtler tenses because the suggestion is less confident.
  9. Pick the answer which fills the gap/s using the best and clearest English.
    ' ... ... happy if we ... ... somewhere else for Christmas this year?'
    A positive answer here would be 'They would ... if we did ... '. The speaker is making a more indirect suggestion.
    Answer 3 is acceptable and even more hesitant; probably not a structure you need to master at this stage, but it could be helpful to recognise when native-speakers use it, as a way of subtly expressing doubt or reluctance about a suggestion ('I suppose we could go all the way to London with you, if you were really sure that's what you wanted to do ... ')
  10. Pick the answer which fills the gap/s using the best and clearest English.
    ' ... ... how complicated some of these Questions would be, I ... ... doing this Quiz!'
    This is the standard ~ and perhaps slightly 'dramatic' ~ way of expressing regret over commitment to something in the past, which has now left someone in a difficult situation. Note that we invert the verb (instead of saying 'if I had known', it becomes 'had I (only) known ...').
    None of these other Answers works properly in English, though the meaning would probably be understood.
    We hope you feel more positive about handling these ideas, and the language for them ... 'If you're worried about it being complicated, don't be!' A lot of the time, simplicity is more important than subtletly for getting the gist of a conditional message across.

Author: Ian Miles

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