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    #1

    Usage of if-clause

    Dear everyone, I am here to seek for your kind help in checking the sentences below which are about if-clauses.

    1. If only I had paid more attention and effort in the past, I could have already entered any of those famous universities like my old friends.


    (I wrote this with the notion of expressing my regrets of not working hard in the past and therefore cannot enter a good college now) (Incidentally, does college means the same with university?)


    2. Given the situation that my friend is talking about his past, when he took two significant exams on the same day, and I reply:

    2.1. If I were you, I would have been very nervous about that and might even be crumbled.
    2.2. If I had been you, I would have been very nervous about that and might even be crumbled.
    2.3. If I were you, I would be very nervous about that and might even be crumbled.


    (I wrote this with the idea of expressing that if I were him at that period of time in the past, I might have collapsed at that time since the pressure might be too much for me to manage and the schedule could be fairly tight.)

    I learnt the if-clause on a site, which mentioned that there are three types of if-clause:

    1. Talking about the present, and the matter is achievable or probable:
    e.g. If I work hard, I will succeed.

    2. Talking about the present, and the matter is not so possible to happen and it's more like a fantasy or imagination.
    e.g. If I had superpower, I would fly on the sky.

    3. Talking about the past, and the matter is doubtlessly not achievable anymore due to the pass of time.
    e.g. If I had worked hard, I could have entered the most famous university.

    However, it just showed us 3 types of straightforward structures and usages, but never said that we could mix them up for different purposes, such as talking about the past while pretending yourself with another person just like the instances I made in question 2. So, are we able to mix them up? To combine a part of the structure in usage 2 and usage 3, mentioned in the examples from the websites I have provided, in a sentence together?

    Thank you very much indeed for the help. I endeavour to learn better English and you have just helped me on my way.


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    #2

    Re: Usage of if-clause

    Quote Originally Posted by TimEndeavours View Post
    Dear everyone, I am here to seek for your kind help in checking the sentences below which are about if-clauses.
    Minor point: You seek our help; you don't seek "for" our help. You should also use a comma before "which."

    1. If only I had paid more attention and effort in the past, I could have already entered any of those famous universities like my old friends.
    Your use of the subjunctive is correct in this sentence. I would only add that you have a parallel sentence structure issue with "paid more attention and effort." You pay attention, but you don't pay effort, and effort is not a verb. I would re-write that section as "paid more attention and put forth more effort."

    (Incidentally, does college means the same with university?)
    "Does college mean the same as university?" That depends on whether you're in the U.S. or elsewhere. In the U.S., college and university are nearly interchangeable (there are some minor differences and points of usage, which I will get to in a minute, but they are both institutions of higher learning/post-secondary education.) In Great Britain and, I think, elsewhere in the English-speaking world, a college is something less than a university (like a trade school), and your substitution of "college" in this instance would be incorrect, because you typically don't need good grades to get into a mere college. I'll let posters from other English-speaking nations elaborate on this, as it is outside my area of expertise.

    Now, as far as the way those terms are used in the U.S.: the difference is really only that a college is smaller. For example, Boston College has 8,500 students, while Boston University has 30,000 students. In this particular case, there are other differences, but those are not related to the college/university distinction.

    Also, because universities are larger, they are sub-divided into different fields, which are called "colleges." So, Northeastern University has a College of Health Sciences, a College of Arts and Sciences, a College of Engineering, and so forth. Many of those colleges are sub-divided into schools: the College of Arts and Sciences comprises the School of Journalism, the School of Architecture, and the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs. At a regular stand-alone college, the fields are also divided into schools.

    It gets more complicated, though. When we speak about higher education in the abstract, instead of talking about a particular institution, we always call it "college." (Again, I'm talking about the U.S. here; it's different in other countries.) For example: she is a college student (even though she attends Boston University.) He is the first person in his family to go to college (he attends the University of Southern California, but no one in his family has ever been educated beyond high school before.) They graduated college in the same year (even though they both went to Brighham Young University.) Binge drinking is on the rise among college students (we are talking about all students at four-year post-secondary institutions, colleges and universities combined.) So, in your example, if you are writing for a U.S. audience, it is not only acceptable but preferrable to say "college" instead of "university."

    But wait, there's more! Some traces of the distinction between college and university do persist in American English. For example, we have something called a "community college." These schools are a step above trade or vocational schools, but they do not offer 4-year (Bachelor's) degrees. Students either earn 2-year (Associate's) degrees, or they take general education courses and then transfer to a 4-year college or university. Community colleges are not as exclusive as regular colleges and universities; in California, for example, the entrance requirements are that a student:
    a) have a high school diploma
    b) have a general equivalency diploma, OR
    c) be at least 18 years old
    That's it--if you flunked out of high school and never even bothered to get a GED, once you turn 18 you're eligible to enroll! I had several friends in high school who used the local community colleges as a stepping-stone to better schools, either because their grades weren't very good (you pretty much have to have straight As to get into any University of California school--they are extremely competitive) or because they didn't have much money. In California, the UC schools work closely with the community colleges, and it is much easier to tranfer from a CC to a UC than it is to get into a UC right out of high school.

    Some trade schools also call themselves "colleges," as in Vogue Beauty College, which trains students in cosmetology (that is, cutting hair and giving manicures--not exactly higher education) but no one really refers to those as colleges, even if it's part of their name.

    It's all very confusing, I know!

    2. Given the situation that my friend is talking about his past, when he took two significant exams on the same day, and I reply:

    2.1. If I were you, I would have been very nervous about that and might even be crumbled.
    2.2. If I had been you, I would have been very nervous about that and might even be crumbled.
    2.3. If I were you, I would be very nervous about that and might even be crumbled.


    (I wrote this with the idea of expressing that if I were him at that period of time in the past, I might have collapsed at that time since the pressure might be too much for me to manage and the schedule could be fairly tight.)
    You should say, "I might have crumbled." The verb "to crumble" means exactly what you think it means, but we don't use it that way as an adjective. Other than that, your sentence 2.1 is correct, as is your sentence 2.2. Technically, it's better to say "if I had been you" when talking about a person's past situation, and "if I were you" when talking about a person's present situation, but few people do that--it's too wordy. Mostly we just say, "if I were you..." Sentence 2.3 is incorrect because you wouldn't still be nervous at the time of speaking; the exams are over.


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    #3

    Re: Usage of if-clause

    Thank you very much Teacher, indeed!

    Your explanations are crystal-clear; nonetheless, I would still like to raise two queries.

    Do you think we should insist on using the correct, better answer, which is "if i had been you" in this case, than "if i were you" when talking about a person's past situation when everybody else is using the less precise, accurate one? Or do you think it depends on the formality of the circumstance?

    Other than that, are the following two appearences of conditional sentence correct?
    - If you say no, I would deal with that.
    - If Julia cried, I will scold her.

    As far as I am concerned, they are incorrect; because the possibilities of the emergence of the two events in a sentence are relative; for instance, if Julia is not likely to cry, I will not be likely to scold her as well; if you are likely to say no, then I most likely will have to deal with that, am I correct?

    But what about this:

    John: I would go to sleep, if you give me an ice-cream. (Given that John is a naughty boy who always lies and usually sleeps 2 hours later than the time this was said, and he knew that her Aunt, who he was talking to currently, was very gracious and would probably give him an ice-cream anyway.) <--- in this case, the possibility on both event does not seem to be relative, as the ice-cream would most likely be given but the boy would, in all probability, break his promise.

    Thanks for your help and patience!


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    #4

    Re: Usage of if-clause

    Quote Originally Posted by TimEndeavours View Post
    Thank you very much Teacher, indeed!

    Your explanations are crystal-clear; nonetheless, I would still like to raise two queries.

    Do you think we should insist on using the correct, better answer, which is "if i had been you" in this case, than "if i were you" when talking about a person's past situation when everybody else is using the less precise, accurate one? Or do you think it depends on the formality of the circumstance?
    You're very welcome! Yes, I think we should use the correct forms, even in informal situations. The reason I bring up the common errors of native speakers is that I assume all ESL students will eventually interact with average native speakers, and will begin to hear all these constructions they were taught not to use. I don't want my students to think I lied to them, or to think they can disregard all the rules I taught, so I always differentiate between
    1) rules that almost every native speaker really follows and
    2) rules that many native speakers ignore
    I also try to distinguish between
    a) errors that will confuse the listener, and
    b) errors that will not confuse anyone,
    as I think it's not such a problem if you make a few of the latter type. I'd rather my students focus primarily on being able to understand and make themselves understood!

    Other than that, are the following two appearences of conditional sentence correct?
    - If you say no, I would deal with that.
    - If Julia cried, I will scold her.

    As far as I am concerned, they are incorrect; because the possibilities of the emergence of the two events in a sentence are relative; for instance, if Julia is not likely to cry, I will not be likely to scold her as well; if you are likely to say no, then I most likely will have to deal with that, am I correct?
    They are incorrect because they are mixing tenses, and therefore mixing real and unreal.
    -If you said no, I would deal with that.
    -If Julia cried, I would scold her.
    These are unreal conditionals, dealing with hypothetical (imaginary) situations.
    -If you say no, I will deal with that.
    -If Julia cries, I will scold her.
    These are real conditionals, dealing with future possibilities.

    But what about this:

    John: I would go to sleep, if you give me an ice-cream. (Given that John is a naughty boy who always lies and usually sleeps 2 hours later than the time this was said, and he knew that her Aunt, who he was talking to currently, was very gracious and would probably give him an ice-cream anyway.) <--- in this case, the possibility on both event does not seem to be relative, as the ice-cream would most likely be given but the boy would, in all probability, break his promise.

    Thanks for your help and patience!
    Whether or not John is likely to keep his promise doesn't affect the grammar of what he is saying, because he is speaking as though it is the truth. What counts is whether he expects to get what he wants. This sentence is also incorrect, for the same reasons stated above. John could say:
    I will go to sleep if you give me an ice-cream*
    meaning he hopes to get some ice cream, and promises to go to sleep if he does, or
    I would go to sleep if you gave me an ice-cream
    meaning he doesn't really expect ice cream, but is still holding on to some small hope of getting it, or perhaps just wants an excuse for not going to sleep.

    *Note: the use of the article "an" before ice cream is technically incorrect, because ice cream is non-countable. However, this is another example of a rule native speakers routinely break, as ice cream is often served in countable servings. "An ice cream" (no hyphen in American English, but I believe it's hyphenated in BrE) could be construed to mean "an ice cream bar/cone/cup/etc." We do something similar with coffee: we walk into the coffee shop, and order "two medium coffees, cream and sugar" meaning two medium-sized cups of coffee. It's one of those errors that's so prevalent it's on the verge of not being considered an error anymore.


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    #5

    Re: Usage of if-clause

    Hi Teacher, much appreciation for your detailed explanations, but I have found a conflicting notion of using conditional sentence in describing a possible or likely conditions in this website: Sentence Patterns: Conditional clauses

    Under the section -- "1. Real conditions", the given instance is mixing tenses; it says "If the Shenzhen River fills up with sea water, it will affect the flow of water and could change the habitat of the Mai Po marshes."; the tense of "will" and "could" are different, yet they are still used together in a sentence.

    What is your opinion towards that? Are they actually incorrect?

    Thank you very much


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    #6

    Re: Usage of if-clause

    Quote Originally Posted by TimEndeavours View Post
    Hi Teacher, much appreciation for your detailed explanations, but I have found a conflicting notion of using conditional sentence in describing a possible or likely conditions in this website: Sentence Patterns: Conditional clauses

    Under the section -- "1. Real conditions", the given instance is mixing tenses; it says "If the Shenzhen River fills up with sea water, it will affect the flow of water and could change the habitat of the Mai Po marshes."; the tense of "will" and "could" are different, yet they are still used together in a sentence.

    What is your opinion towards that? Are they actually incorrect?

    Thank you very much
    Actually, they're both future clauses! I know this is confusing. "Could" is the past form of "can," but remember, we use the past forms when talking about possibilities. So, two potential outcomes of the river filling up with sea water are:
    1) flow of water is affected (definite) and
    2) habitat is changed (possible)
    It's not a difference of tense; it's a difference of certainty.

    ETA: Let me elaborate a bit on that. "will" and "could" are both modals of future possibility, as are "might," "may," and "should." The sentences I corrected:
    - If you say no, I would deal with that.
    doesn't work because "would" is not used for future result clauses (use "will.") As for the second sentence:
    - If Julia cried, I will scold her.
    After thinking about it further, I realize there is a possible scenario that would make this grammatically correct. Imagine this: you left Julia with a babysitter. Upon returning home, you speculate as to whether she cried while you were gone. You decide that, if it turns out that she did cry, you will scold her when you find out about it.
    Last edited by Heterological; 14-Jul-2010 at 04:23.

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