Conditional with cause in the past and effect in future?

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Kasual, May 31, 2011.

  1. Kasual New Member

    Canadian English
    I recently wrote this on a quiz:

    "You will pass this quiz if you studied."

    To me this sentence means that the test is happening now, you may or may not pass in the future depending on whether or not you studied in the past.

    Some of my colleagues, who have a first language other than English, pointed out that this sentence doesn't conform to rules governing conditionals and therefore is ungrammatical. However, as a native speaker, my intuition is that it is grammatical and my colleagues who are natives speakers agree that it 'makes sense'.

    I checked my grammar reference book and I haven't been able to find any examples of conditional sentences where a simple past "if" clause is paired with a "will" clause referring to a future effect of that past event when the time of speaking occurs sometime between the cause and effect. However, I can think of several other example sentences which may occur in such a situation.

    For example:

    A detective may say to a murder suspect, "I will find out if you killed that women."

    Or, when a person enters a room which previously contained a poisoned cupcake to find the cupcake missing and another person in the room he may say, "If you ate that cupcake you will die."

    I have two questions:

    1. Are such sentences grammatical or not?


    2. Does anyone know of any authoritative sources which refer to sentences like that?
  2. boozer Senior Member

    Even though my mother did not sing to me English lullabies, I think your sentences are possible and correct. :)

    There is a lot more to the English conditional mood that the four basic types of conditionals (1st, 2nd, 3rd and zero). The situations you describe do require you to use the tenses you have used.

    I would like to add a little something, though:

    If I had no specific past moment in mind, I would use the present perfect tense:
    You will pass this quiz if you have studied.

    If I was referring to a particular past time, I would use the past tense:
    You will pass this quiz if you studied last week.

    But I know that sometimes the choice between present perfect and past simple in such cases is, ummm, a matter of personal preference. So I still think your sentences are correct.

    As regards an authoritative source, when I get back home I will check Randolf Quirk's Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language - I've not opened it for quite some time, but I do know it lists hundreds of examples...

    Hey, and welcome to the forum :)
  3. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    English - South-East England
    I see no reason why you can't have past antecedent and future consequent. Two of your three sentences are good examples. However, I should point out that 'I will find out if you killed that woman' is not a conditional - or probably not intended as a conditional. The 'if' here is a subordinator and is equivalent to "whether". The 'if' marks the truth of 'you killed that woman' as uncertain. But Sherlock is such a good detective that, if you killed that woman, he will find out. So this easily converts to another example of the kind you want.
  4. Kasual New Member

    Canadian English
    Thanks to entangledbank and boozer!

    I'm glad to know my intuition is correct.

    I'd still like to know if there are any reference books out there that deal with conditionals using different tenses in the antecedent and consequent. The ones I've seen just discuss the 0 1st, 2nd and 3rd where all the elements are in the same time period (ie. present 1st conditional, past 2nd conditional).
    Last edited: Jun 1, 2011
  5. boozer Senior Member

    Well, I've been digging through Quirk's grammar, but I have been unable to find an example of this particular type.

    However, I found quite a number of other examples that justify the grammar in your sentence. Here are two of them:

    If I bought the winning ticket, I'll be rich.

    If she has got on the plane, she’ll be in New York in the morning.
    (the use of past simple in the if-clause is optional... or American??)
  6. Kasual New Member

    Canadian English
    Thanks, Boozer!

    Those websites are both great.

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