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ESL Lesson: Conditionals

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Conditionals or "On Condition"

This story is a review of the Conditionals. As you remember there are 4 types of conditional. Can you identify them in the following sentences?

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  • If you squeeze an icicle in your hands it melts.
  • If it rains tomorrow we will stay at home.
  • If I were a millionaire I would share the money with you.
  • If you hadn't called me last night I would have slept peacefully.

Now read the story and try to find out which of the condidtionals are in italics and why.

"On Condition"

If someone had told me when I was at school, I would not have believed it. If I tell people today, they say they have not heard of it. Of course it was a long time ago. But it is true: if you were 18, you had to do something called national service. If you were reasonably fit — could stand up, walk about, sit down and then stand up again and not fall over — you would have to report to a military barracks near where you lived. If I had taken the trouble to think about the practical side of the matter, I could have chosen a different service. There were after all the navy and the airforce. The navy wasn't very likely unless you had had dozens of uncles and grandparents in the service before you. In my case this didn't apply at all. The airforce somehow appealed. I liked the idea of tearing through the skies away from it all. If I think about it now, I just can't imagine why I liked the idea especially since flying for me today is a total nightmare. It probably came from Great Aunt Mary - she wasn't that big but she had acquired the title "great" because she'd been alive for so long. Anyhow she used to say: "If you really do your national service, you'll probably be a pilot. I can just see you sitting in a nice aeroplane." Of course if you objected to any type of violence against your fellow man, you could always object — officially I mean. If you thought along those lines, you were called a "conscientious objector" and you had to appear before a special tribunal and explain your reasons. Again you would probably be exempt from military service if you came from a long line of conscientious objectors. In that case you would work in a hospital for two years as a porter. But then my family didn't do a lot of objecting. I came from an ancestral background who generally agreed with the majority. We didn't like to make a fuss. The general philosophy that prevailed was: "If I were you dear, I'd get on with it." On top of that I wasn't very conscientious either. We had a black sheep in the family of course. He telephoned me shortly before my 18th birthday and said: "If you really want to get out of doing national service, I'll help you all I can. If I were you, I'd do what I'm doing." His idea was to live abroad until he was 26 and then come home. It seemed a bit extreme to me. If he'd known what happened in the end, he would have done it here because he got caught for military service in the other country where he was living!

For those few months after I was 18 I was like a cat on a hot tin roof. If the telephone rang, I would jump in the air. If the postman arrived late, I couldn't relax until he had delivered the post and I had checked every item. My parents said to me one morning: "If you don't relax, you'll end up having a nervous break down. If the post does come, there's, nothing you can do about it. If I were, you ... " but I didn't listen to the rest of the sentence because a thought had come into my mind. Supposing I were, mad, supposing I didn't know, who I was, supposing I pretended, that I didn't understand a word anybody was saying - surely the Queen wouldn't want, a madman in her army. I tried it for a few days but it was too much like hard work. You can imagine the comments: "If you're, trying to get out of conscription by pretending to be barmy, just forget, it because it isn't working ... if you honestly imagine, that your mother and I are taken in by this stupid behaviour then you are, very much mistaken. I can only repeat if I were you ..." Time passed slowly and I began to think that If I kept quiet about it, maybe the army would forget about me.

One bright autumn day in September after a particularly good night's sleep I strolled downstairs and saw what I took to be a postcard. A card from a late holiday maker perhaps? It wasn't. It was a card informing me that I had to report to H.M. Tower of London and giving me permission to travel there by underground - one-way only of course. And that's how I came to spend the first part of my national service in the Tower. Nobody now believes me if I tell them I was there for three months but then I still have the emotional scars to prove it. They tell me that if you want to visit the Tower as a tourist nowadays, it is quite expensive. I haven't been back. I think three months is long enough if you want to get to know a place. There are other places of interest near the City of London. Now, if I were you ...

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Next:ESL Lesson: Subjunctive

Author: Alan Townend




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