What If…? Taking a Lesson on Conditionals to the Next Level

Target Grammar: what if, even if, as if, only if, if only, if not, if so, if anything, if necessary, if and when.

Step 1 – Write the combinations with “if” on the board in a single column. Present a series of cloze statements and ask the class to idenfy the best choice to complete each one.  After the best choice is identified, write the meaning that phrase expresses next to it on the board. (You will then have two columns, phrases and definitions.)

Model statements and meanings:

  1. You can use this computer station. _________ you need help, the front desk can offer tech support. [Answer: if and when = if it happens or when it happens]
  2. The teacher gave a thorough explanation. Actually, it was a little too detailed,  _________.  [Answer: if anything = used to add further comment, which often strengthens a previous statement]
  3. I could really use some extra cash to pay off my loan. _________ I had a rich, loving aunt or uncle.  Then I could ask for help. [Answer: if only = used to express a strong wish that will likely never come true]
  4. I want my children to eat their vegetables at dinnertime. I remind them, I ask them, I plead with them, and I even bribe them   _________.  [Answer: if necessary = it this becomes necessary]
  5. You may want to remove the old wallpaper and paint your walls.   _________, I can help. I have experience taking off wallpaper and painting.  [Answer: if so = if that is the case or situation]
  6. Why don’t we go out to eat tonight? Do you feel like it?   _________, I can cook something for us at my place.  [Answer: if not = if that is not the case or situation]
  7. We need to plan Dad’s birthday party.   _________ we have a big family dinner at his favorite restaurant?  [Answer: what if = used to make a suggestion or pose an idea for consideration]
  8. Dad doesn’t like big parties  _________ all the guests are family and close friends. He’s just not comfortable in large groups.  [Answer: even if  = similar to “no matter what”, used to express that the result won’t be any different no matter what the conditions are]
  9. Dad will agree to a party   _________ he can make the guest list – and belive me, it will be a short one.  [Answer: only if = the result will happen provided that the stated condition is met]
  10. The woman walked into the office   _________ she owned the place. Just who did she think she was? Imagine being so bold when you come to a job interview!  [Answer: as if = like “as though”, used to express that a situation seemed different from the truth]

Note: The explanations are based on the definitions given by the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English. An online version of this exercise has been published as an interactive quiz on EnglishCafe.

Step 2 – In small groups, have students discuss the following questions. You may choose to assign questions to groups or write the questions on index cards and give a few question cards to each group.

  1. Would you ever eat frog legs or a live insect? What if you were very hungry and other food wasn’t available?
  2. Some people won’t lie even if it’s to protect someone they love. What about you? Under what circumstances do you think lies are okay?
  3. Someone comes up to you and greets you warmly by your first name. You can’t remember who this person is. Do you act as if you know the person, or do you risk disappointing the person by asking them where you met before?
  4. Violence itself is not a good thing, but many would agree that it is sometimes necessary. Finish these statements: “I’d hit another person, only if…”/ Police are trained to use force if necessary. For example, they sometimes have to…”
  5. It’s fun to imagine what you could do with a lot of money, from things that you’d buy to the people you could help. Finish this statement: “If only I had a million dollars. Then I could…”
  6. You see a small bill (5 dollars, for example) on the ground in a parking lot. No one is around. No other car but yours is parked nearby. Do you keep the money? If so, why? If not, why?
  7. Human activity has probably had an effect on nature in all parts of the world. If anything, it’s hurt and not helped nature. Can you give examples that either support or oppose this statement?
  8. Success is sweet when you can share it with others. Name a big goal that you have. If and when you achieve it, who will you celebrate your success with?

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