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Hi.

I'm teaching English using a textbook that doesn't give detailed explanations or rules for grammar. I'm a well-educated native speaker, but I haven't studied Teaching English. I don't have a good, solid reference book and I doubt I can find one here. I understand "backshifting", but the book has now thrown in this structure without any explanation:

If you were to put that money into a savings account, you would be less likely to spend it.

Can you give me a rule or explanation for when this structure is used? I mean, I have no trouble with the usage, but I don't know how to explain it to my students.

BTW, the book does have some interesting exercises for analyzing unreal conditionals:

If Dave were here, he'd help us. (Is Dave here? Is he going to help us?)
If we hadn't gotten stuck in traffic, we wouldn't have missed the flight. (Did we get stuck in traffic? Did we miss the flight?)
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I believe that Amazon.com ships anywhere. Pick up a copy of Michael Swan's Practical English Usage. Used copies are also abundant at Abebooks.

To be to + infinitive is a form used to express a strong plan, a command, etc: I am to meet the Queen tomorrow!
Cast into the past, it can be used as a hypothetical for the Second Conditional: If I were to meet the Queen, I would probably faint..
lisadove If you were to put that money into a savings account, you would be less likely to spend it.

Can you give me a rule or explanation for when this structure is used? I mean, I have no trouble with the usage, but I don't know how to explain it to my students.
Explain and practice the basic pattern first:
If [past], ... would ...
Examples:
If you baked a cake, I would eat it.
If I had a million dollars, I would buy a new home.
If he took the other road, he would arrive earlier.
If I knew more about it, I'd tell you.
______

Once that basic pattern is understood, explain that were [infinitive] can substitute for the past of an action verb in this structure. Using the examples above, this substitution works for the first and third, but not the second and fourth, because have and know are stative verbs. Thus,
If you were to bake a cake, I would eat it.
If he were to take the other road, he would arrive earlier.
But not: If I were to have a million dollars ... or If I were to know more about it ....

CJ
Students: Are you brave enough to let our tutors analyse your pronunciation?
lisadoveI'm teaching English
What is the mother tongue of your students?
Spanish. I'm in El Salvador.
Thank you! It's beginning to make sense now, but as for why you would use this more complex structure.... A colleague at work hypothesized that the were + infinitive form might be used in a more "possible" unreal situation.... It also sounds more like a suggestion. And it seems to clarify whether "If he took the other road" is past (If he took the other road, he's probably already on his way back by now.) or present unreal (as in your example).
Students: We have free audio pronunciation exercises.
lisadoveA colleague at work hypothesized that the were + infinitive form might be used in a more "possible" unreal situation.
Hmmm. I think that might be splitting hairs a bit more than your students are capable of at this point in their studies. It certainly splits them more than I would like to! Emotion: smile

CJ
Well for Spanish speakers this doesn't need any explaining. The "were" form in the if clause is equivalent to the past subjunctive in Spanish. Every Spanish speaker understands this difference.
HuevosWell for Spanish speakers this doesn't need any explaining.
The past subjunctive is seldom used in Salvadoran Spanish and, as I said before, it's explaining why and under what circumstances it is used that is difficult.
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