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In my opinion, conditionals are one of the hardest concepts to master in the English language. I’m a native speaker (and an English language teacher) and even I couldn’t give you a neat succinct explanation without referring to my increasingly dog-eared copy of Swan. So any resource that contextualises conditionals is a valuable thing, in my book. A colleague where I work likes to use the story of Cachi the poodle to teach the third conditional [If X had happened, Y would/wouldn’t have happened]. So, if Cachi had not fallen from the balcony, Marta Espina would not have died, and so on…

I like the look of this video:

A realistic present – the footballers doing things in a football match (almost scoring a goal, making a clearance, making a tackle, pass, etc) – interspersed with possible futures depending on the outcome of the matches. So you see a cheesey song on a reality TV show dedicated to Fabio Cannavaro, Franck Ribery nicking Wayne Rooney’s place in Nike’s national flag ad campaign, a film being made about Cristiano Ronaldo. Some are realistic, while others aren’t (Rooney being knighted, anyone?). But they all are possible. So we can use conditionals. Here’s part one of the plan (introducing the 2nd conditional and vocabulary related to success): Nike Write The Future (part 1)

[Update – 19 July 2010]

The trouble with conditionals for language learners, in my opinion, is understanding that there are two periods of time being referred to in a conditional phrase, and how these two periods relate to each other.

Here’s how (in my experience at least) conditionals are usually presented (I am going to generalise here, as mixed conditonals are also possible) The conditional clause is presented here in square brackets […]:

  • Zero conditional – facts or basic truths –
    • If you heat water to 100 degrees, it boils. If it rains, the ground gets wet.
    • Form – [If + present] + present
  • First conditional – real possibilities or consequences to future events –
    • If it rains tonight, I will take my umbrella when I go out.
    • Form – [If + present] + future (will + infinitive)
  • Second conditional – imaginary or hypothetical situations or consequences to future events –
    • If I were a girl, I would use a lot more L’Oreal products than I do now.
    • If I won the lottery, I would buy a car.
    • Form – [If + past] + would + infinitive
  • Third conditional – imaginary or hypothetical consequences of a past event (often a past event that didn’t actually happen) –
    • If it hadn’t rained, I would have driven my convertible with the roof down.
    • Form – [If + past perfect] + would + have + past participle

The key to understanding how the third conditional works lies in understanding in how the two periods of time relate to each other. The key questions are of this kind: What would have happened if Didier Drogba had scored the goal? Would Wayne Rooney have been knighted if he hadn’t made that tackle? Would they have made a film about Ronaldo if he had won the World Cup? There is a need for imagination if you are going to be able to make sense of these questions, and come up with some kind of meaningful answer.

Here’s a diagram I have worked up to try and show the link between two of the events in the video and their related consequences (their hypothetical ‘past’ futures):

So following the logic above, you would hopefully think of phrases like these:

  • If Franck Ribery hadn’t intercepted Rooney’s pass, he wouldn’t have taken Rooney’s place in the advertising campaign, and Rooney wouldn’t have ended up living in a caravan park.
  • If Rooney hadn’t tackled Ribery, he wouldn’t have been celebrated by the media, had babies named after him or been knighted.

Watch the video with your students, look out for the key moments in the football matches (they are followed by the situations like Cannavaro’s song, Ronaldo the film, Ronaldinho becoming a YouTube sensation). Hopefully your students will be able to come up with more examples using the third conditional.

(Sorry, but no bonus points if you guess which countries and players the Nike ad seems to be favouring with its hypothetical ‘past’ futures!!)