Grammar LSA

Today, I am sharing with you my grammar background essay (LSA) for the Delta Cambridge module 2. Please keep in mind that this has been shared with you as an example. Cambridge does not take plagiarism lightly, so do not copy from this assignment. I got a Merit for this LSA.


I have always had a liking for grammar teaching and the ‘traditional’ 2nd conditional is a great opportunity to engage my students in fun activities and an important part of the syllabus for intermediate level students. Although at an intermediate level learners are already familiar with the 2nd conditional (if + simple past, would), they still have trouble expressing untrue/unlikely conditions in the present/future. Understanding why a simple past may refer to the present or future (see section 2.III) may be due to L1 interference or misusing the inverted forms of conditionals (see section 2.V) because of lack of practice makes this grammar item hard for learners. Knowing how to deal with the problems (see section 2) and questioning the effectiveness of just teaching the traditional 2nd conditional basic structure (see section 2.I p.5) are reasons why I chose this topic.

1.Language Analysis

Definition of conditionals and their general form.

According to Carter and McCarthy (2006, p. 448)

”Conditions deal with imagined situations: some are possible, some are unlikely and some are impossible. The speaker/writer imagines that something can or cannot happen or have happened, and then compares that situation with possible consequences or outcomes, or offers other logical conclusions about the situation”.

Conditional clauses mainly express conditionality and they are most frequently introduced with the word if (ibid)

If they competed, they would succeed   OR    They would succeed if they competed.

Protasis (if clause)                        Apodosis (main clause)

(The Shorter Oxford Dictionary cited in George,H.V. 1997 p.161)

Conditionals can also be in the interrogative or negative form.

1.1.Form/Meaning and Usage

Theoretical grammars

Traditionally conditional clauses are divided into the 1st, 2nd and 3rd conditional (Carter & McCarthy 2006,p.748) The 2nd conditional is formed as follows: If+ simple past tense+ would/could/might (a modal with a past reference in its meaning). According to Carter and McCarthy (2006,p.748), their meaning depends on the speaker/writer, “a speaker or writer responds to a possible/hypothetical situation  by indicating a possible outcome. The speaker states that the condition must be fulfilled for the present or future to be different”. In fact, it is imperative that the condition is fulfilled for the present or future to differ (Carter & McCarthy 2006, p.748) e.g. If I knew what he wanted, maybe I could help him. Apart from this description, Carter and McCarthy (2006,p.749) mention that conditionals can refer to real or unreal situations. As they put it, “Unreal situations are things that are untrue or imagined, have not happened and are only remotely likely to happen. Unreal situations are the basis of the second and third conditionals” (ibid) and there are no differences in the way they are formed (If+ simple past tense+ would/could/might).

Murcia and Freeman mention that the description of the 1st,2nd and 3rd conditionals is an overgeneralization (1999 p.545). For them it is more accurate to talk about factual, future (predictive) and imaginative (subjunctive) conditional sentences. Imaginative conditionals (hypothetical and counterfactual) are the focus of this paper.

Imaginative Conditionals

  • Hypothetical conditional sentneces
Form Meaning Example
Present: if + simple past/present subjunctive + wouldFuture: If + were to +verb/ verb +simple past tense + would The speaker perceives something to be unlikely yet possible in the if clause.In this example: we are not sure if Joe has time now to go to Mexico- it is possible but probably unlikely. E.g. If Joe had time, he would go to Mexico (present reference).If Joe were to have the time, he would go to Mexico (future reference).
If+ should have/simple past +to have/should + infinitive +to have, would The negative quality of the if clause can be further weakened-the possibility of the result occurring becomes weaker.Here: Joe is probably not going to have time and is unlikely to go to Mexico. E.g. If Joe should have/ happened to have/should happen to have the time, he would go to Mexico
  • Counterfactual conditional sentence
Form Meaning Example
If+ simple past/ present subjunctive+ would. Impossible event or state in the if clause present/future reference.Here: My grandfather isn’t alive so this is untrue/impossible in the present / future E.g. If my grandfather were alive today, he would experience a very different world (present counterfactual)

Functions of conditionals in Murcia and Freeman (1999, p.557)

  • “Propose options for future scenarios.
  • To introduce contrasts.
  • To provide examples following generalisations.
  • To make inferences based on previously mentioned assumptions.”

Jones and Waller (2010) suggest that this notion be expressed with other forms apart from the traditional if + simple past, main clause would. After conducting research they found some more structures which expressed something unreal in the non past although, on the whole, the structures they propose are similar to what grammarians have already mentioned. Clearly, context affects the form of this notion.

If+ past simple, simple present

E.g. Even if we did, we have no drivers abroad

Meaning: They want to change their present situation but they cannot because they do not have drivers.

If+ present simple, would

E.g if two members of staff happen to fall in love, it would be churlish to be appointing blame.

Meaning: happen to lexically expresses the unlikeliness of members of staff falling in love.

Pedagogical grammars

According to Alexander’s (1998) pedagogical grammar for intermediate level students, there are cases where what is known as the 2nd conditional refers to something untrue/imaginary or unlikely.

Form                                                                  Use/Meaning

Protasis (If clause) Apodosis (Main Clause)
·       If + past/could (basic formation)e.g If you went by train, you would get there earlier







E.g. If you could run faster, you’d be a champion.

Would  Something reasonably possible but ‘more tentative’. Past tense does not refer to past.Here, it is likely that the train would take you to your destination faster)

Something totally impossible ( this is debatable though as the context is missing).

Table: adapted version from Alexander, G. L. (1998, p.208-9)

In Thornbury (2004, p.60) this structure is formed by  if+ past tense+ clause would/could.

E.g. If you were a parent, you’d understand how I feel.

Meaning: Something unlikely or impossible in the present/future which has outcomes that are hypothetical (ibid).

Inverted conditional

Inversion can occur in the 2nd conditional if the if clause has the verb to be. If can be dropped in the conditionals and the auxiliary verb is placed before the subject (formal inverted structure) for example, Were she my daughter, I’d give her some good advice (Swan, M. 2002 p.250). If cannot be dropped, if there is any other verb in the if clause.

Clearly, different grammarians propose different descriptions of this notion. There is consensus on the if clause simple past/past continuous or a modal verb (in the past) while the main clause usually has would/could in it and its meaning has to do with something likely/less possible or even impossible in the present/future. Variations of this form use tenses like the simple present. The meaning  is the same and depends greatly on the context. These structures are used to express dreams, wants and wishes, things that may or may not happen.


The spelling of conditionals depend on the individual components which form the  2nd conditional. For instance, the spelling of the past/ irregular past or ing endings.


Phonology is affected by the components which form the 2nd conditional, for example, the [l] in modal verbs. Knowing which word to stress may also affect the meaning of a conditional clause.

  1. Problems for learners and how to solve them
  1. Problem-The 2nd conditional: Is it enough?

Focusing on just the basic form of the 2nd conditional to present something untrue/unlikely in the present/future is not enough. In fact, this can be expressed with other if structures too (see section 1.1 p.4).

Solution and techniques

Exposing learners to more examples of if clauses and patterns that are used to express these conditions can be the first step towards teaching students the different ways of expressing real and unreal situations (Jones & Waller 2010, p.29 and Thornbury 2003, p.223). Students could be asked to identify sentences that do not fit into the traditional 2nd type conditional (Thornbury 2003, p 96 & 223) in authentic texts and then through discovery methods find the new patterns. We then discuss the variations to the rules they have learnt so far and whether the sentences they found express the ‘target’ notion. They then record these variations and add them to what is in their grammar course book and make something like a grammar journal. Building their own grammar journal will help them realize that there are many ways to express something unreal/unlikely in the present/future. Such a task solicits recognition of the form but does not guarantee correct production. It must be closely monitored though as the learners may not be sure if what they found expresses this notion while the teacher must also make clear that not everything goes and it is necessary to look closely at the context and speaker/writer intention. This activity is more appropriate for adult learners. Identifying variations would require more time if the learners were children but this does not mean that it is impossible.

2. Problem-I’d

Mistaking the contracted form I’d for I had instead of I would (Aitken 2002, p110). This may happen in my classes because I avoid using the contracted form on the board or due to overgeneralization. That is why they may produce sentences like If I were rich, I had buy a Porsche.

Solution and Techniques

Students use the contracted form I’d for I would through drilling the full and short form. Learners rewrite sentences where would is used in the full form and then in the short form. Drilling can be quite a dry, restricted method but it still makes the learners’ recognize the different I’d forms. The limitation of drilling exercises is that according to Savage et al (2010 p.6) “they reduce cognitive engagement…. activities are designed to reduce students’ errors”. Adults do not particularly appreciate drilling tasks due to this. Drills can also be used for younger learner groups in the form of choral repetition or songs e.g If I were a rich man/ if you had my love etc. were I’d is used as part of the apodosis. Clarification checks about the lyrics of the songs could ensure my learners noticed the contracted form.

3. Problem past tense referring to the present/ future

Students who have learned to associate the past tense with something that happened in the past find it hard to believe that if+ simple past/past continuous may refer to the present (Celce-Murcia & Larsen-Freeman 1999, p.545). They may have difficulty understanding how something which is translated in their L1 in the past refers to the present or future or they may be overgeneralizing the translation of the past.

Solution and Techniques

Engaging in what Willis (2005, p.14) calls ‘consciousness raising activities’ is a good first step. By looking at examples of simple past future referencing in context and figuring it out for themselves, they will better understand the unreal past reference. A good task for intermediate students is to get them into groups and give them slips of paper with phrases like win five million dollars in the lottery, get a pilot’s license and be able to fly a plane and so on. The learners work in pairs and produce sentences describing what they would do e.g. if I got a pilot’s license and could fly a plane, I would…. I would monitor my students during this task and offer feedback regarding any difficulties they have with this form (Cowan, R. 2008, p.467). This is quite a restricted task and can be used before freer production tasks where students could for example interview each other on things that would do if they could.

4. Problem-Phonology  (would)-stress patterns

Greek spelling is phonetic and has a correspondence between sound and graphic symbol (Papaefthymiou-Lytra ( p.129 cited in Swan & Smith). Greek students tend to have difficulty reading the short form I’d /aɪd/ and not saying the silent [l] in would/ could /should. Russian learners have a problem with the sound [w] as it does not exist in Russian (Monk and Burak cited in Swan & Smith 2002, p 147). This can be problematic when teaching the 2nd conditional as would is the most common word in the apodosis. Stressing the right word in a conditional clause may also affect the meaning of the sentence and should be addressed in the classroom too.

Solution and Techniques

W sound/Silent L

In order to help my learners with the [w] sound I would show them where the sound is formed (voiced velar) and then practice the sound with phonology cards with words that start with W. This type of activity would be appropriate mostly for adult learners. Although very restricted, it will lead to the outcome wanted. I would use phonological cards to practice the silent [l] too. As a self-study task I would ask my learners to record themselves  on ‘vocaroo’ and then check their performance. Practicing saying the words over and over and listening to how these words are said will make perfect.


Role playing would be a good way to familiarize learners with stress patterns as they can provide a context and students will be able to emphasise the word which should be stressed in the protasis and apodosis. Learners actually realize that stressing the wrong word could affect the meaning of what they want to say. Stress patterns can be part of a listening task too where learners underline which words are stressed. It is necessary for students to have examples of the conditional as it is spoken in real life, so video viewing is the best approach.

5. Problem-Inversion

Ellipsis of if and subject auxiliary inversion occur more frequently in written form and more frequently in British English (Cowan 2008, p.458). Based on my experience, at an intermediate level student do not really invert their conditionals and they sometimes have difficulty recognizing the structure Were I as a conditional.

Solution and techniques

Structural drills will allow my learners to practice the structure over and over again. Then they can move on to more meaningful drills which will enable them to familiarize themselves with the inverted structure and feel more comfortable to use it in the everyday speech. These drills could be done as part of a process writing task and in order to make it more autonomous I would use some peer checking tasks of this form in my class. Although drills are very restricted they help recognition of the form and lead to usage of it in freer written tasks like a narrative or a consequence chain where the learners would have to include the inverted form as part of the task fulfillment requirements. Such a task would be appropriate for both adults/children.


Based on what I discussed in this paper, if I taught the second conditional tomorrow, I would read through this LSA to get a clearer picture of this grammar phenomenon.


Aitken, R (2002). Teaching Tenses. Brighton: ELB Publishing.

Alexander, L. G. (1998) Longman English Grammar Practice for intermediate students. New York:Longman.

Carter R. and McCarthy M.2006 Cambridge Grammar Of English: A comprehensive Guide Spoken and Written English Grammar and Usage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cowan, R. 2008 The Teacher’s Grammar of English a course book and Reference guide. New York: Cambridge University Press.

George, H. V. (1997) Essays in informational English Grammar with reference to English language teaching. Victoria: Campus Graphics La Trobe University.

Jones, C. and Waller, D. (2011) If only it were true: The problem with the four conditionals ELT journal Volume 65/1, p.24-32.

Murcia-Celce, M and Freeman-Larsen, D (1999) The Grammar Book: An EFL/ESL Teacher’s Course. United States of America: Heinle and Heinle Publishers.

Savage, K. L., Bitterlin, G. and Price, D. (2010) Grammar Matters in Adult ESL Programs. NewYork: Cambridge University Press.

Swan, M. and Smith, B. (2002) Learner English 2nd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Swan, M. (2002) English Usage 2nd edition International student’s edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Thornbury, S.(2003) About Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Thornbury, S. (2004) Natural Grammar. New York: Oxford University Press.

Willis, D. (2005) Rules, Patterns and Words Grammar and Lexis In English Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.




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