Hi there! I am confused of what tense I should use with the "if" statement. Many times I heard of people using the past tense in their "if" statements such as:

- If there was a bed here, that would be good.

- If he saw it, he wouldn't believe it.

I wonder if the above statements can also be used in the present tense like:

- If there is bed here, that will be good.

- If he sees it, he won't believe it.

Seriously, I only heard the 2 statements in the past tense only. Please explain to me if I can use them in both present and past tense or they can only be used in the past tense only. To me, the 2 statements seem alright to me except that people tend to prefer to use it in the past tense. I don't know why??? Seriously, I only heard the 2 statements in the past tense only. Wonder if I can also use it in the present tense??? Please advise me how to use the "if" statements with the correct tense. Please also show me examples, that will be great. Thank you.
1) If Jack sees it, he won't believe it.

2) If Jack saw it, he wouldn't believe it.

Both of these are correct, and they mean very similar things.

1) is used when the speaker feels that the situation mentioned in the if-clause may really happen. From the speaker's point of view, there is a real chance that Jack will see it. This statement is about real future time.

2) is used when the speaker is only imagining that the situation mentioned in the if-clause happens. It doesn't matter if in the real world there is a chance that Jack will see it or not because the statement isn't about the real world. The speaker is only speculating about a situation that may or may not happen, and the speaker doesn't focus on whether it will happen or not. The speaker is just envisioning a fictitious situation in which Jack sees it. So it all takes place in an imagined world that is part of the speculation. This statement isn't about real future time. In a way, it's not about real time at all.

_________

If I buy a lottery ticket, I might win the lottery. This is real possibility. I can say, "If I win the lottery, I will buy a new house".

If I don't buy a lottery ticket, I can't win the lottery, but I can still speculate about winning the lottery. I can say, "If I won the lottery, I would buy a new house".

___________

There are many times when it doesn't matter whether you use the pattern in 1) or 2).

CJ
Hi CalifJim. Thank you very much for your detailed explanation. It surely helps to clear up my some of my misunderstandings regarding the tense used in a "if" statement. In conclusion, can I say that both the above "if" statements, be it in the past tense or present tense, both statements are valid and correct in the tense used. Am I right to say that I can use the above "if" statement in present tense or in past tense as both ways mean very similiar things. But one thing that puzzles me is that I hardly get to hear people use the above "if" statement in the present tense. Mostly people use the above "if" statement in the past tense. Why such a perference?? Why is this so??? Even though both ways mean very similar things, in what situation do I have to use each of them appropriately?? I hope you know what I mean. Please advise. Thank you very much.
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Mostly people use the above "if" statement in the past tense. Why such a preference??

People like to speculate about matters in 'arm-chair philosopher' mode, holding ideas at arm's length, so to speak. The past tense is not used to indicate past time in these cases. Instead, it indicates a sort of remoteness from reality.

If the oceans went dry, ... would .... (Who can say what would really happen? This is speculation.)

If I won a million dollars, ... would .... (Who knows for certain? This is speculation.)

If an asteroid crashed into the earth, ... would ... (Speculation.)

____________

Suppose, instead, that you are explaining something that you already know to someone standing beside you. This is a situation that is immediately present, not remote.

If you flip this switch, the light will go on. (Not speculation. You know how the switch works and what it does.)

____________

Read my 'lottery' example again to get some idea of the differences.

____________

I suppose there are more situations in life that require imagining something that we don't know for certain than there are situations where we state outcomes we are sure about. So most of the time when we say 'if', we are speculating about something, envisioning something, imagining something. The human mind is quite active when it comes to wondering (or worrying) about things that aren't necessarily likely to happen.

What would happen if ...

we sold the house?

my wife lost her job?

you heard that your best friend had died?

the economy collapsed?

you missed your flight to London?

we received a check for $20 million?

our son got married?

you were offered the job of your dreams?

everyone had guaranteed health care?

(Note all those "remote" past tenses about situations that have not happened and may not ever happen.)

CJ
Thank you very nuch, CalifJim. Really appreciate your effort and time to explain to me. So, can I say that I can actually apply the present tense or the past tense in the "if" statement. Both ways are vaild and correct. The only difference is whether it is used in speculation or in the future sense. Am I right to say this?
spongebob123Thank you very nuch, CalifJim. Really appreciate your effort and time to explain to me. So, can I say that I can actually apply the present tense or the past tense in the "if" statement. Both ways are vaild and correct. The only difference is whether it is used in speculation or in the future sense. Am I right to say this?
Yes, that's right. It seems to me, though, that people usually speculate more than they talk about the real future, so if you really can't decide which is better when you want to use an if statement, make a guess that it's speculation and use the pattern with the past tense and would. Emotion: smile

CJ
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Thanks CalifJim, really appreciate your help. You cleared up my confusion. Thanks for all the effort and time u gave me to explain it to me. Thanks again.