CONDITIONAL SENTENCES

We have reached the last of the constructions you are likely to meet which involve the Subjunctive. Let's hope these notes round things off for you...


As always, use the links in the box below to move quickly to the sections you want to study.

 

 
Introduction

The construction in Latin

REAL Conditionals

UNREAL Conditionals

SI QUIS...

Practice Sentences

 


 

 



 


     This structure differs from the usual "Main clause/Subjunctive clause" format in that quite often both verbs in the sentence are found in the Subjunctive. It is also seen with both verbs in the Indicative….this all depends on the 'likelihood' of the 'conditions' involved!

 

    Conditional sentences are those where an outcome is predicted based on what may or may not happen in advance. In English, we normally use the conjunctions 'IF' or 'UNLESS' to lead into the first event or premise (the actual 'condition'):

 

           e.g.  If you find my brother, he'll show you the letter.
                   Unless you run, you'll miss the bus.


     The above sentences give more-or-less definite results that will really occur if the condition is (or isn't!) fulifilled: VDB will refer to sentences of this type as "REAL" Conditionals (other labels are available….!)

     Sometimes however the outcome is less definite:


         
e.g.  If Hannibal had attacked at once, he would have captured Rome.
                 If that boy listened more carefully, he would learn more.


      In English, these sentences generally contain the words "
WOULD", "COULD" or "SHOULD" in the Main Clause (not the 'If…' clause), and VDB (predictably) calls them "UNREAL" Conditionals.

 

 

 





THE CLAUSE IN LATIN

 

               In Latin, unlike many other languages (e.g. French), there is no actual "conditional" tense: sentences of the "UNREAL" type described above have BOTH VERBS in the sentence in the Subjunctive.

           More agreeably, "REAL" Conditionals reflect their more factual nature by simply using normal Indicative tenses throughout the sentence.

        
          The Latin for
"IF" is "SI", and for "UNLESS" or "IF…NOT" is "NISI".


 

 

 


 

 

       REAL CONDITIONALS

       
              Here first are some examples of "REAL" Conditionals. To translate them, you generally just need to use the equivalent tense from Latin into English:


       
e.g.  MARCUS,  SI  TABERNAM  VIDIT,  SEMPER  INTRABAT.
               If Marcus saw a pub, he always used to go in.


              
SI  ILLUD  PUTAS,  STULTUS  ES.
               If that's what you think, you're an idiot.

 

         The only 'small complication' comes if a "REAL" Conditional is referring to the FUTURE.  In Latin (you may remember), they were much more precise in their use of tenses than we are in English: if a verb is referring to something that hasn't happened yet, they used the Future for it. This usage is called the 'LOGICAL' Future, and is also found in many other languages (again, e.g. French). In English we tend to use the PRESENT tense for such verbs:


         
     e.g.  SI  FRATREM  MEUM  CANTANTEM  AUDIES,  RIDEBIS.
            If you hear my brother singing, you will laugh.

      (not "If you WILL hear…", although that's what it really means!)

 

            SI  MAGISTER  NOS  VIDEBIT,  IN  MAGNO  PERICULO  ERIMUS.
            If the master sees us, we'll be in big trouble.


      It is also possible to find the Future Perfect tense used in Latin (almost interchangeably) in a similar way.

    
   On the whole, you shouldn't find that this causes much difficulty - it is quite automatic for us to use the Present without thinking.

 

 

 





 

 

UNREAL CONDITIONALS

 

             These, as mentioned above, can be recognised in Latin by BOTH VERBS in the sentence being in the Subjunctive. The TENSE of the Subjunctive will indicate what sort of 'TIME-SCALE' is being referred to; and English translations should aim to reflect this.

            It will be most helpful to explain this in a moment through examples, but understanding the 'mechanics', especially of which Subjunctives are used in which situations, may also be useful.


         Old pupils used to be advised, when translating Unreal Conditional sentences into Latin (which we will not be expecting anyone to try this time…!) that they should try to follow these two steps:

   1.  First (in English) decide upon which sort of "TIME" the sentence refers to (i.e. Past, Present or Future)

   2. Then, in Latin, choose the Subjunctive which is "ONE STEP BACK ALONG THE TIME-LINE",

          i.e.  English FUTURE conditionals would use PRESENT Subjunctive
                English PRESENT conditionals would use IMPERFECT Subjunctive
                English PAST conditionals would use PLUPERFECT subjunctive.


     Therefore, when translating Latin into English, the "opposite" of this can guide you into finding the correct "TIME" needed to express it:


     
e.g.  SI  IN  FORUM  AMBULETIS,  NOVUM  TEMPLUM  VIDEATIS
                 
(PRESENT subjunctives, so FUTURE time meant)
             If you were to walk down to the forum, you would see the new temple.


       Of course, even more natural English would be to say "If you WALKED down…". It is often rather confusing to see an apparent PAST tense used like this, referring to the FUTURE…that's English for you!


    
Here's another Future one (remember, the Present Subjunctive shows you this):

         SI  MILITES  MURUM  AEDIFICENT,  TUTIORES  IN  CASTRIS  SINT.
               If the soldiers built a wall, they'd be safer in the camp.

 

    Examples referring to PRESENT time are really quite rare:


         
e.g.  SI  PATER  ADESSET,  NOS  IUVARET.
                
(IMPERFECT Subjunctives, so PRESENT time meant)
                 If father were here, he'd be helping us.


        
They are often 'mixed in' with a first half referring to the PAST (Pluperfect Subjunctive):


      
SI  MINUS  VINI  BIBISSES,  IN  VIA  IBI  NON  IACERES.
       If you hadn't drunk so much wine, you wouldn't be lying there in the road.

 

   Both the Future and Present types are only likely to be found in Direct Speech (and the Present ones with Imperfect Subjunctive only in very limited circumstances). Far more common are Unreal Conditionals referring to what might have happened in the PAST. The Pluperfect subjunctive is used for these:


    
e.g.  SI  CLAMORES  TUOS  AUDIVISSEM,  STATIM  ACCURRISSEM.
             If I'd heard you shouting, I'd have run over straight away.

 

        NISI  ROMANI  AUXILIUM  CELERITER  MISISSENT,  URBS  CAPTA  ESSET
        If the Romans hadn't quickly sent help, the city would have been captured.

 

 

 

 


 

ONE LITTLE EXTRA DETAIL…

       

             They had a special way of saying "If anyone…." or "If…anything…". This was to use "SI QUIS…", or "SI QUID…":

          e.g.  SI  QUIS  TIBI  ALLOQUETUR,  TACE…
                  If anyone speaks to you, say nothing….!


         You will hopefully not have to deal with anything like this apart from possibly in the Set Books, when someone will help you…!

 

 

 

 



 

    PRACTICE SENTENCES

 

           Here is a mixture of all the types described above (both Real and Unreal). Try to decide on the correct sort of 'TIME' they refer to, and if you see Subjunctives, the key thing to remember is to put in "WOULD, COULD or SHOULD" in the Main Clause (not the 'SI/NISI' half).

          Below each one I have shown what type it is, if you want to check first before you go on to translate.


    1.  SI  CRAS  VENIES,  HORTUM  TIBI  OSTENDEMUS.
Type:  Future Real
Answer:  If you come tomorrow, we'll show you the garden.
 

 

    2.  NISI  AMICUS  ADVENISSET,  PUER  VIAM  E  SILVA  NUMQUAM  INVENISSET.
Type:  Past Unreal
Answer:  If his friend hadn't arrived, the boy would never have found his way out of the wood.

 

    3.  SI  ILLUD  ME  ROGES,  TACERE  MALIM.
Type:  Future Unreal
Answer:  If you were to ask me that, I'd prefer not to answer (literally: '…prefer to be silent').

 

    4.  SERVI,  NISI  DILIGENTER  LABORABITIS,  GRAVISSIME  PUNIEMINI!
Type:  Future Real
Answer:  If you don't work carefully, slaves, you will be punished very severely!

 

    5.  SI  SENEX  IN  AQUAM  CECIDISSET,  NEMO  EUM  SERVARE  POTUISSET.
Type:  Past Unreal
Answer:  If the old man had fallen into the water, no-one would have been able to save him.

 

    6.  SI  DUX  TE  ROMAM  MITTAT,  MISERRIMUS  SIM.
Type:  Future Unreal
Answer:  I'd be very upset if the general sent you to Rome.

 

    7.  NAVES,  NISI  E  PORTU  NAVIGAVISSENT,  TEMPESTATE  DELETAE  ESSENT  OMNES.
Type:  Past Unreal
Answer:  If the ships hadn't sailed out of the harbour, they'd all have been wrecked in the storm.

 

    8.  SI  SENATUS  SERVUM  ILLUM  ROGABIT,  DE  HOC  SCELERE  TERRIBILI  VERA  COGNOSCET.
Type:  Future Real
Answer:  If the Senate questions that slave, they (it?) will find out the truth about this awful crime.

 

    9.  SI  MINUS  CIBI  CONSUMPSISSES,  TAM  AEGER  HODIE  NON  ESSES.
Type: Mixture of Past & Present Unreal
Answer:  If you hadn't eaten so much food, you wouldn't be so ill today.

 

    10.  SI  AD  FORUM  CURREMUS,  CAESAREM  IPSUM  VIDEBIMUS.
Type:  Future Real
Answer:  If we run to the forum, we'll see Caesar himself.

 

    11.  NISI  HORATIUS  FORTITER  DEFENDISSET,  HOSTES  PONTEM  CEPISSENT.
Type:  Past Unreal
Answer:  If Horatius hadn't defended the bridge bravely, the enemy would have captured it.

 

    12.  SI  MARCUM  OPPUGNET,  CANEM  ILLUM  NON  CULPEM.
Type:  Future Unreal
Answer:  I wouldn't blame that dog if it attacked Marcus.

 

 

     This brings us to the end of our survey of constructions using the Subjunctive in Latin. If you have managed to follow us this far, you have done some very valuable work.

                                           (Type:  Past, REAL!)