A friend of mine brought to my notice an error in the structure of a sentence in my letter that was published in a newspaper. Here is the sentence:
■ If only the world had a handful of politicians like Nelson Mandela the world would have been different and a better place to live in.
Yes, the sentence is grammatically incorrect. The phrase would have been in the main clause should be replaced by would be in order to make the sentence correct.
To my disappointment the original grammatically correct sentence “If the world had a handful of politicians like Nelson Mandela the world would be different and a better place to live in” had been modified and made incorrect by the person who edited it.
I have come across similar errors in many newspaper reports and in the writings of even those whose proficiency in English is good. Most learners of English find it difficult to master the structure of conditional sentences. A typical conditional sentence consists of a condition (dependent) clause and a consequence (main or independent) clause. There are three types of conditional sentences.
The first type is called real, or possible, condition. Here what is said in the condition is possible and refers either to the present or to a future time. The present tense is used in the conditional clause and the consequence is expressed using will or any modal verb (may, can,...) that can have future meaning.
Look at these examples:
■ If you come late, you won’t be allowed to attend my class.
■ If he prepares well for the exam, he will score good marks.
■ If we go by train, we can reach there in time.
The second type is called unreal, or imaginary, condition. Here what is said in the condition is improbable. We use the past tense in the conditional clause though we are talking about a present condition and use would+verb in the consequence clause. Look at these examples:
■ If I were you, I would not marry him.
■ If he were the CM, he would not give freebies.
The sentence “If the world had a handful of politicians like Nelson Mandela the world would be different and a better place to live in.” is an imaginary condition. Here are more examples of imaginary condition:
■ If he were a candidate for the Assembly election, he would make many empty promises.
■ If he made many empty promises, people would trust him and cast their votes for him.
■ If people cast their votes for him, he would win the election easily.
■ If he won the election, he would not fulfil any of his promises.
■ If he failed to fulfil his promises, he would be called a dishonest politician.
In the sentences above, the conditional clauses are in the past tense and the main clause has this form: would + infinitive.
In the third type we are talking about something that happened or did not happen in the past. It is impossible that the condition will be fulfilled because it has a past time reference. The form is: If + subject + past perfect+…, subject + would have + past participle. Look at these examples:
■ If he had studied well, he would have scored more marks.
■ If he had scored more marks, he would have done medicine and become a doctor.