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Hypotheticals

1. What are hypotheticals?

Hypotheticals are imagined situations – they are based on the idea ‘what if x happened?’

Hypotheticals generally are made with two parts:
if clause + result clause

English has four conditionals. The 2nd and 3rd conditional describe imagined situations.

2. The 2nd Conditional

The 2nd conditional means ‘if x happened, what would be the result?’

The 2nd conditional is made by:
if (past tense/past continuous/could) + would (present)

If I were not a teacher, I would be a farmer.If I had ten million dollars, I would buy a small island.
If he were a girl, he would be called Sarah.If Mark could speak Spanish, he would move to Mexico immediately.

The hypothetical ‘if’ clause can be placed before or after the result.

SentenceReversed
If you could help me, I would be very thankful.I would be very thankful if you could help me
If he asked her to marry him, I think she would say ‘yes’.I think she would say ‘yes’ if he asked her to marry him.
If the sun died, life on Earth would cease to exist.Life on Earth would cease to exist if the sun died.

3. The 3rd conditional

The 3rd conditional is for ‘if an event in the past had been different, how would life be different’.

The 3rd conditional is made by:
if (past perfect) + would (present/present perfect)
= if (had done) + would (be/have done)

*if talking about how life would be different now, use ‘would (present)’. This is usually ‘would be’.
*if talking about how life would have been different in the past, use ‘would (present perfect)

Different nowDifferent in the past
If she had invested in 2003, she would be rich.If he had scored that penalty, they would have won the game.
If Kevin had not had the operation, he would be dead.If France had not helped, the US would not have gained independence.

Again, the hypothetical clause can be before or after the result.

SentenceReversed
If she hadn’t come to Shanghai, I wouldn’t have met her.I wouldn’t have met her if she hadn’t have come to Shanghai.
If I hadn’t failed that exam, I would be a pilot now.I would be a pilot now if I hadn’t failed that exam.
If she hadn’t married so young, she would be a lot happier.She would be a lot happier if she hadn’t married so young.

4. Hypothetically speaking

‘Hypothetically speaking’ is sometimes said when describing an imaginary problem to which you are looking for an answer.
It makes it clearer to the listener or reader that this is not a real situation.

The term ‘speaking hypothetically’ can also be used.

I think you will pass. But what would you do if, hypothetically speaking, you failed?“You want to quit?!”
“No, boss, I am just saying that, hypothetically speaking, if I were to become seriously ill I wouldn’t continue to work.”
If, hypothetically speaking, there was a better man than your husband who was interested in you, would you get a divorce?If I, and I am speaking hypothetically, kissed your wife, what would you do?

5. Exercises

1. What would you do if:
a) you found a gun?
b) you were God?
c) you had to choose between your career or love?

2. How would your life be different if one thing had not happened in the past?

3. Make 2 questions about hypothetical situations, using ‘hypothetically speaking’ in the question.Hypotheticals are situations one imagines – they are based on the idea ‘what if x happened?’

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