Can you explain English conditionals using one or two examples below?1) If I could call your attention to the bill, I refer you to page four. 2) Even if a man takes bread to feed his starving...

Can you explain English conditionals using one or two examples below?

1) If I could call your attention to the bill, I refer you to page four.

2) Even if a man takes bread to feed his starving family, that would be stealing?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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You are attempting the analysis of conditionals in these examples. English conditionals are a complicated language form. Often, only the simplest conditional forms and functions are taught, but conditionals have many subtle complexities. In particular there may be mixed conditionals and variations of the pattern of first conditionals. In addition, certain modals express other linguistic conditions, such as politeness, commands, and interrogatives.

First conditionals have a standard pattern if + present simple verb, + will + base verb (infinitive). The first example sentence is written as a variation on first conditional pattern. This particular first conditional pattern employs the modal can in the form of could + present simple verb in the if- condition clause and the standard form future tense will + base verb in the main--result--clause.

The variation patterns of first conditionals include a modal verb, like can/could, may/might/must, should, will, in the if-clause or in the main clause. Both clauses (if-conditional clause and main result clause) may express future tense or present continuous future tense. Also, the if-clause may express present perfect tense. In addition, some modals in conditionals are used to express extreme politeness. These may be can/could, should (e.g., if it should be that; if it should happen that), may/might.

The if-clause in this sentence uses the modal could to express extreme politness. Picture a scholar presenting a scholarly work at an international symposium: The scholar would use the politeness marker could to frame his directive: "If I could call your attention ...." The main clause that follows is in the standard will + base verb pattern. In this case, however, the speaker has taken the grammatical liberty of omitting the modal will for economy of expression, which incidentally suggests a more formal tone.

The second example is similar in that it too presents a first conditional in a variation on the standard pattern. Again, the standard form for a first conditional is if + present simple verb, will + base/infinitive verb. In the if-clause, takes is third person simple present, matching the standard first conditional form. In the main clause, which questions the result ("that would be stealing?"), will is used in the interrogative form would in combination with be stealing to vary the standard first conditional pattern of will + base verb in the main clause. Both of the example sentences are correct as they stand, but since they are variations on the standard pattern, they are more challenging to analyze.

As a final note, as was said, conditionals are complicated yet most often the simplest forms and explanations are taught. In light of this, it is useful to note that while conditionals address actuality (zero conditional, possibility (first conditional), improbability (second conditional), and impossibility (third conditional), they also perform other functions. Conditionals join past, present, and future. They express regret for past (third conditional) or present (second conditional) events. They express politeness and interrogative (modal forms). They express criticism of people and their actions (third conditional). They express what is or was true or real and what is or wished for as an unreal wish or as a real possibility for the future.

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