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Action Movie Teaches You about Conditional Statements


Everyday Grammar
Action Movie Teaches You about Conditional Statements
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Imagine you see an action movie on television. Perhaps it is the movie Predator, a famous film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. It involves an alien creature who attacks people in the jungle.

You decide to watch it to see if you can learn some English.

Then, you hear this line:

“If it bleeds, we can kill it.”

Even if you do not like action films, you can still learn a lot from this line.

In today’s report, we will explore conditional statements – statements suggesting events that depend on each other. For example, if one thing happens, then another thing happens. You will learn about one kind of conditional that involves the simple verb form and different modal or helping verbs.

Let’s start with some important terms and ideas.

Conditional statements

Grammar books describe different kinds of conditional statements.

These statements describe relationships between two events. There is often an if-clause and a result clause. A clause is a group of words with a subject and a predicate – the part of the sentence that says something about the subject.

When you learn about conditional statements, you might read about names of many kinds of statements. They include the first conditional, second conditional, present real conditional, and others.

The difference often comes from the place in time, the nature of the action, and the reality of the situations being described.

Let’s explore our example again:

“If it bleeds, we can kill it.”

The first part of the statement has an if-clause. The clause has the subject, “it,” meaning the alien creature, and a verb in the simple present form, “bleeds.”

A reminder: the simple present in English does not always mean the present time. The simple present can also describe something that is generally true or is habitual.

When Schwarzenegger said, “If it bleeds,” he is describing a general truth. If something has blood, it is probably a living thing. And living things can be killed.

Note that the result clause has the helping verb “can.”

"...we can kill it."

This is important because “can” expresses possibility. It does not express that something is sure to happen.

The statement could have also been:

If it bleeds, we kill it.

This suggests a general rule or policy. It suggests a usual way of doing things.

The statement could have also been:

If it bleeds, we will kill it.

This involves the helping verb “will.” It expresses a strong amount of certainty about a future event.

The reason Schwarzenegger used “can” is because he was not sure that his group would be able to kill the creature. He suggested only that it was possible.

Closing thoughts

You can use these general ideas to make all kinds of statements. For example, you might say:

If you study hard, you can pass the English test.

Or,

if you study hard, you will pass the English test.

Conditional statements can be difficult to learn because they involve more than one clause and sometimes use complex verb forms. But with time and effort, you can learn these statements.

In today’s report, we explored one kind of conditional statement. If you would like to learn more about conditional statements in detail, please read our earlier stories about conditionals. We also have videos that explore different kinds of conditional statements.

And remind yourself:

If you carefully study the language of silly action movies, you can improve your understanding of English grammar.

I’m John Russell.

John Russell wrote this lesson for VOA Learning English.

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Words in This Story

conditional –n. grammar : showing or used to show that something is true or happens only if something else is true or happens

modal – n. grammar: a verb (such as can, could, shall, should, ought to, will, or would) that is usually used with another verb to express ideas such as possibility, necessity, and permission

habitual – n. done regularly or repeatedly

silly – adj. playful and funny; not serious, meaningful, or important

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