My Dearest Mad-Readers,
I would like to share a reflection I have been having for a few years and which could benefit all of you. I have been reading a lot about mindsets lately (e.g. on The Art of Blogging, which is an excellent blog I recommend to all fellow bloggers) and this reminded me of this thing everybody does (even I from time to time) and which profoundly affects & upsets me.
A Shred Of Grammar
I will not bother you with the intricacies of English grammar, but I would like you to read the 3 sentences below and notice a huge difference between them (please?).
The First Conditional
If I have enough money, I will go to London.
When you look at this sentence, you want to believe the person who said it was in a positive mindset. Perhaps they are working to earn enough money to go to London. This is a mindset I would encourage people to have, but there’s another option : Perhaps our fellow is not working yet and is looking for a job ? We don’t have enough information but this sentence can be interpreted both ways. We don’t know what the speaker is doing to change their situation, but we can safely assume they are doing something about it.
There’s still something that bothers me, though. Why say this in the first place ? Are they worried they won’t have enough money ? Are they not ready to find a solution to that issue ? It is subtle but there is some lack of confidence coming out of this simple sentence which I will underline even more in the sentences below. Let me suggest an other way to phrase the same idea with more certainty.
I will get enough money and then I will go to London.
OR I am working to get enough money to go to London.
You may think these 2 sentences have a radically different meaning, and you wouldn’t be wrong, but it’s exactly my point. If you take out the condition, you take out the uncertainty. You only do.
The Second Conditional
If I had enough money, I would go to London.
Here, it is a fact that the character doesn’t have the amount of money they need to go to London. In my opinion, it’s child’s play to upgrade from If I have enough money, I’ll go to If I had enough money, I would go.
If you say this, you already are in a negative mindset and believe you won’t go. If you are lucky enough, a relative of yours may give you a pep talk (or a slap, if they aren’t as nice as me) and tell you to find a job to earn the extra money and fly away. Everyone doesn’t have the change to have that friend or relative to cheer us up however. Unfortunately.
When I read this sentence, here’s how I literally interpret it : I do not have the money, I don’t have the motivation to do what’s necessary to get the extra money I need, I will not go to London.
The Third Conditional
If I had had enough money, I would have gone to London.
There’s a name for this type of sentences : I call it regrets. It’s not pretty and it’s not something you want anywhere near you. If you ask me, regrets are useless. They only smite you where it hurts, and then they hurt you some more. Why then give them any space in your life ?
Whatever you did before, you did for a reason.
Why not trust in your past self ? I am absolutely certain this past self of yours took the decision that was right for you when you needed it. The problem is, we change all the time. You won’t be the same person in a week, so it is okay to have changed your mind regarding something you did years ago (or any time in the past).
Only Negative Effects ?
I need to add a quick disclaimer to this article. Conditionals add nuance to a language and I appreciate to have the choice to use them or not. Without them, we would not be able to tell stories with as much detail or learn from our mistakes. Or it would take us 2 or 3 sentences to phrase the lesson instead of one… Let me give you an example. Let’s say I missed the train this morning. When I arrive home, I say to myself :
If I had run, I would have caught the train.
This sentence can have 2 meanings in this context. The first one is, I regret not to have run. HOWEVER, there’s another one : I did not run. I am learning my lesson. Next time I face such situation, I will run. And it took me 3 sentences to say it when the context could have done the job with only one sentence…
A Useless Complex Tense ?
As my disclaimer pointed out, conditionals aren’t as useless as I first suggested. The point of this article is 1) to ask your opinion & perhaps start a debate (tell me in the comments below?) and 2) make you aware of the dangers of using language / grammar without fully understanding its intricacies.
Conditionals aren’t useless but there are countless cases when you don’t want to use them. Feeding regrets or uncertainties does not serve you well. How about we focus on I am or I have instead of second-guessing ourselves with regrets ? How about we just listen to what the present is whispering into our ears and take action without hesitating when our hearts knows it is the right course of action ? How about accepting that it’s okay to make and have made mistakes (Everyone does, right?) ?
[Personal Pronoun + Modal Verb + Have + Past Participle]
I could have been so talented if I had worked in school.
Quite a complicated formula for the third conditional, right ? I have a challenge for you : try and be more aware when & why you use it in the next few days. Then put yourself in the shoes of the person saying the sentence above. Stop thinking you could have been so talented if. Accept that you are who you are today thanks to the choices you made and that it is not too late to show the world how much potential you have.
One last thing : The third conditional can be used to express judgment too. E.g. You should have done something else. As this article is long enough, I won’t dive into the specifics but I still think the world would be a better place if we were less judgmental with each other. Wouldn’t you agree ?
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In the end, conditionals are like social media. They are a fabulous tool we use poorly. Are you with me to right this wrong ?
I hope you enjoyed this article. If you did, it would literally make my day if you liked it (and commented, if you have a few minutes more). I am doing my best to reach 100 followers by the end of this month, so it would mean the world to me if you subscribed (let’s reach that first milestone together) or shared this post. Finally, if you have some more time (it’s lockdown init?), feel free to check out some other articles of mine 😉
Take care of yourselves,