“If-then”: Using Conditional Sentences in Academic Writing

Conditional sentences are statements of an “if-then” or “unless” situation. These sentences express situations and their probable results. Conditional sentences are frequently used to discuss the outcomes of research studies or are part of a hypothesis statement.

Conditional sentences are essential for stating and testing conditions and their results. Most authors of scientific papers use such statements, particularly in the Introduction and Discussion sections.


Types of Conditional Sentences

Conditional sentences contain two clauses—the condition clause (if or unless) and the main clause. There are five kinds of conditional sentences, each conveying a different meaning. Some conditional sentences refer to the common truths and others to hypothetical situations.

  • Zero conditional sentences refer to a common truth or factual relationships. These sentences assert that one condition always results in the same outcome. For instance:

If you put ice cubes in a glass of water, they melt.

Note that both clauses are in the present tense.

  • First conditional sentences present a possible situation and its probable result. The degree of certainty is lower compared to the zero conditional. For instance:

If you eat green vegetables, you will feel amazing.

Note that the present tense is used in the if-clause and the future tense in the main clause.

  • Second conditional sentences express unreal conditions and their probable results—speculation, for example.

If I had control over food production, I would end world hunger.

Note the use of the simple past tense in the if-clause and the modal verb (i.e., would, could, should) in the main clause.

  • Third conditional sentences are slightly different. They propose that the outcome would be different had the past been different. This kind of conditional expresses a situation that is contrary to fact. For instance:

If you had told me, I would have brought dinner for you.

Note that the condition and the result did not occur. The past perfect tense (had + past participle form of the verb) is used in the if-clause, and the verb (would) plus “have” plus the past participle of the verb is used in the main clause.

  • Mixed type conditional sentences refer to a situation in the past and its probable result in the present. For instance,

If I had learned to ride earlier, I would be a big rodeo star by now.

Note that the past perfect verb is used in the if-clause, and the present conditional verb is used in the main clause.

Punctuating conditional sentences is easy. Use a comma to separate the if-clause from the main clause when the if-clause comes first.

A Few Exceptions to the Rules

In the sentence given below, we use the simple future verb in the if-clause:

If Vitamin D eases my arthritis pain, I will take some supplements every day.

Note that the action in the if-clause hasn’t taken place yet, but will occur after the action in the main clause is taken.

The use of “were + infinitive verb” (e.g., were to fall) in the if-clause is another exception. This phrase is used to highlight the significance of the outcome of something that might occur. For instance:

If she were to fall on her shoulder again, she would have to have surgery.

The action in the if-clause (were to fall) displays the subjunctive mood, i.e., a grammatical feature in English for expressing wishes, proposals, suggestions, or imagined situations.


Significance to Researchers

In your research, you are likely to either perform your independent experiments or use the outcomes of others’ experiments to conduct a meta-analysis. In either case, you will be required to report your evaluation and conclusions. In doing so, there will be situations in which the outcomes of your study or even future studies are based on specific conditions. Your findings are based on evidence, data, or theory. You might present your conclusions as likelihoods that something has already occurred, is presently happening, or will take place at some point. This is where a conditional sentence plays a critical role.

The verb tenses used in the if-clause and the result clause must adhere to the type of conditional being expressed. Here’s where Trinka, an AI-driven writing assistant, can help. It is the world’s first language enhancement tool that is custom-built for academic and technical writing, and has several exclusive features to make your manuscript ready for the global audience. www.trinka.ai

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