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I'm confused about using 'will' or 'would' in conditional sentences.

For instance, in this sentence, both 'would' and 'will' sound fine to me, although I think most would say to use 'will' because the first part is in the present tense:

'If you soften the villain of the story, the later scenes would/will lose all their suspense."

As I say, either 'would' or 'will' sounds fine to me, but the agreement seems to be on 'will' because the verb 'soften' is in the present tense.

However, the issue I then have is that I see a lot of sentences such as this one from the New Yorker:

"Maybe, if the Democrats somehow manage to win control of both chambers later this year, that scenario would become more likely."

Is this sentence incorrect, or is 'would' completely acceptable here? If so, why? The first verb is 'manage', not 'managed', so it should be 'will' for consistency. If this is fine, can I use 'would' in my first example sentence?

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JJDouglasMaybe, if the Democrats somehow manage to win control of both chambers later this year, that scenario would become more likely.

This is called a mixed conditional. The if-clause is from the pattern seen in the first conditional; the consequent clause is from the second conditional.

This pattern can be used to show that the situation in the if-clause is viewed as less imaginary than the situation in something like if I won a million dollars or if we lived on the moon. In this case, there really is an election coming up later this year, so maybe that fact alone was enough for the writer to use 'manage' instead of 'managed'. Where to make the division between the more imaginary and the less imaginary situations is completely subjective, so there is no rule of grammar that governs this.

CJ

Comments  
JJDouglasAs I say, either 'would' or 'will' sounds fine to me, but the agreement seems to be on 'will' because the verb 'soften' is in the present tense.

This part of grammar is tricky. "Would" is wrong, and only "will" sounds right. "If you soften" is like "if you do soften" (conditional), and "if you softened" is like "if you were to soften" (subjunctive). If you do soften, then X will happen. I you were to soften, then X would happen.

JJDouglasIs this sentence incorrect

Yes, but it is not the crime of the century. A lot of people wouldn't even notice, I imagine. The speaker did not. People talk rather loosely a lot of the time, and it's no big deal, but it pays to be correct in writing when you can.

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 CalifJim's reply was promoted to an answer.

Thank you for your answer. So if I used 'would' in the first sentence, could that count as a mixed conditional as well? Or, because I'm talking about something that is quite likely, do I have to use the first conditional structure (present simple in the if-clause and will + base verb in the consequent clause)?

I never formally studied grammar, so first, second and mixed conditionals are completely new concepts to me. I've done a quick Google on them. That's good to know.

JJDouglasSo if I used 'would' in the first sentence, could that count as a mixed conditional as well?

If you soften the villain of the story, the later scenes would lose all their suspense.

Yes, this is also a mixed conditional. The contents of the clauses don't change the terminology. Even the sentence below is a mixed conditional.

If you stand on your head, the moon would explode.

JJDouglasOr, because I'm talking about something that is quite likely, do I have to use the first conditional structure (present simple in the if-clause and will + base verb in the consequent clause)?

With situations that are quite likely, which is how you describe them above, you show that with IF present, ... WILL .... So that's what I'd recommend in the case of your example sentence.

JJDouglasmixed conditionals are completely new concepts to me

It's taking the if-clause formula from one of the three conditionals and mixing it with the consequent clause formula from a different one of the three conditionals. Any mix like this makes a mixed conditional.

1. IF present, ... WILL ...
2. IF past, ... WOULD ...
3. IF HAD pp, ... WOULD HAVE pp ... (pp = past participle)

Here's a pretty common mixed conditional (IF 3, 2):

If I had studied Japanese more carefully years ago, I would understand a lot more today in Tokyo.

CJ

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