IF Clauses
“Si” (“if”) is an adverbial conjunction, but it’s
different from all other adverbial conjunctions.
It NEVER gets the PRESENT subjuntive:
Juan siempre almuerza si tiene tiempo.
Juan va a almorzar si tiene tiempo.
In these sentences, the present INDICATIVE
follows “si.” The present subjunctive never
does. However, the IMPERFECT subjunctive
frequently does follow “si.”
Some “si” clauses are called “contrary to fact” clauses:
If it were raining (but it’s not), we would leave.
If I were you (but I’m not), I would study more.
If I had a million dollars (but I don’t), I’d buy a Ferrari.
All of these “if” clauses are contrary to fact, and you
use the imperfect subjunctive in them:
Si lloviera, saldríamos.
Si yo fuera tú, estudiaría más.
Si tuviera un millón de dólares, compraría un Ferrari.
Look carefully at the verbs in these sentences from
the previous page:
Si lloviera, saldríamos.
Si yo fuera tú, estudiaría más.
Si tuviera un millón de dólares, compraría un
Ferrari.
In all three sentences, the verb after “si” is in the
imperfect subjunctive, and the main verb is
conditional. Those two tenses are MARRIED. If
you have imperfect subjunctive in the “si” clause,
you HAVE to have the conditional in the main
clause. If you have the conditional in the main
clause, you HAVE to have the imperfect
subjunctive in the “si” clause. If you have one, you
have to have the other. If you don’t have one, you
can’t have the other.
So what if it’s NOT a contrary-to-fact clause, you may ask.
Well, then you use the indicative in whatever tense makes sense:
Si _________ (salir) ahora, llegarás a tiempo.
If you ________ now, you’ll arrive on time.
What tense makes sense, in both English and Spanish?
Si sales ahora, llegarás a tiempo.
If you leave now, you’ll arrive on time.
OK, another one:
Si ________ (ir) a la escuela, comieron perritos calientes.
If they ___________ to school, they ate hot dogs.
Si fueron a la escuela, comieron perritos calientes.
If they went to school, they ate hot dogs. (Context: I don’t know if my niece
and nephew went to school today, so I don’t know what they had for
lunch. The school served hot dogs, so if they went to school, I know they
ate hot dogs.)
So there are only two really big rules with if
clauses:
Conditional in the main clause and imperfect
subjunctive in the if clause are MARRIED.
Otherwise, use whatever tense makes
sense, and that tense will be in the
indicative.
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Subjunctive—If Clauses