Understanding the past conditional in English | Bangkok Post: learning

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No, it didn’t’ happen, but what if…

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The language of the past conditional seems difficult, but the concept is easy. Here are some video examples that you WILL understand. 

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Do you see that speeding car in the intersection that is running a red light. What would have happened if…..?

No, it didn’t’ happen, but what if…

The idea is easy; the language, however, is rather complicated. I’m talking about past conditionals:  when we consider something that did not happen in the past and then try to think of what would have happened if something had been different.  “What would have happened if Germany had won World War 2” is an often debated example.

Let’s take a much easier topic based on an 11-second video. Watch it. What happened?

OK. What happened? A car drove through a red light at high speed at a busy intersection and went right between two vehicles without crashing into them.

We can’t change the past. There was no collision, but we can certainly think other outcomes:

What would have happened if the car had come through the intersection a half a second earlier? It would have crashed into one of the cars.

See, the idea is not difficult. Now, all you need to do is to learn the correct language to express it.

Now, watch this short news story that talks about a similar situation: something that didn’t happen, but if it had, the consequences would have been very bad.

Video transcript: Federal prosecutors released new video that showed what would have happened if the Times Square terror plot had succeeded. It also comes just as we are learning that the Connecticut man who admitted to that terror plot may have also planned a second attack. Fox Connecticut’s Joy Lim Nakrin is here and she’s got a look for us.

Good morning Logan and Sarah. Well it is a frightening scenario to consider. What would have happened if Faisal Shazad had actually pulled off the mass destruction that he planned? Well, the FBI built a replica of the exact bomb that he had just to test the consequences and prosecutors called them devastating.

This newly released video gives a terrifying look at what would have happened had the Times Square bomb plot succeeded. You’re looking at an FBI test that recreates the potentially deadly situation. It uses a replica of the bomb Faisal Shazad had in the back of his SUV when he tried the May 1st attack. Other cars were placed around the deadly device to gauge the impact and prosecutors say it would have been devastating.

The bomb failed to go off during the actual attack and Shazad was arrested just two days later. But just imagine what could have been, considering the highly-populated area the prosecutors say Shazad so carefully selected.

Prosecutors also say the Bridgeport man had planned to strike again in New York just two weeks later. The 30-year-old will be sentenced next week. Prosecutors say he should be locked up for life.

Prosecutors say the former financial analyst who was living right here in Connecticut actually boasted that he thought the bomb would kill at least 40 people. They also quoted him as saying that he had hoped to join his brothers in jihad. Sarah..

intersection – a place where roads, lines, etc., join or cross each other สี่แยก
complicated – difficult to deal with, do or understand  ซับซ้อน
collision – an accident in which a vehicle or person that is moving crashes into something  การชนประสานงา
outcome – a result ผล
consequences – results of effects of something ผลที่ตามมา
federal – relating to the central government, and not to the government of a region, of some countries such as the United States เกี่ยวกับสหพันธรัฐ
prosecutor – a lawyer whose job is to prove in court that someone accused of a crime is guilty อัยการ
release – to make known to the public เปิดเผย, ให้ข่าว, ปล่อยข่าว
terror – violence used for making people very frightened in order to achieve political aims การก่อการร้าย  การสร้างความหวาดกลัว
plot – a secret plan to do something bad  แผนการลับ
admit – to agree that something is true, especially when you are unhappy, sorry or surprised about it  ยอมรับ
scenario – a description of possible actions or events in the future การสมมติสภาพที่เลวร้ายที่เป็นไปได้
consider – to give careful thought to something before making a decision พิจารณา
pull off – to succeed in doing something difficult ทำได้สำเร็จ
mass – a large amount of something ปริมาณมาก
destruction – when something is destroyed การทำลาย, ภาวะที่ถูกทำลาย
replica – an accurate copy of something งานศิลปะที่จำลองจากของจริง, ของจำลอง
devastating – damaging badly or destroying ทำลายล้าง
terrifying – extremely frightening; causing great fear น่าสะพรึงกลัว
recreate – to make something that existed in the past exist or seem to exist again สร้างใหม่
potentially – possible in the future ที่อาจเกิดขึ้นได้
gauge – to calculate something approximately วัด,ประเมิน    
impact – an effect or influence  ผลกระทบ
arrest – (of the police) to take someone to a police station because they are believed to have committed a crime จับกุม
imagine – to form a picture of something or someone in your mind นึกคิด, จินตนาการ, นึกฝัน
select – to choose  คัดเลือก
sentence – (of a court of law) to officially state what someone's punishment will be พิพากษา, ตัดสินลงโทษ
financial – involving money เกี่ยวกับเงิน, ทางการเงิน
analyst – a person whose job involves examining facts or materials in order to give an opinion on them  นักวิเคราะห์
boast – to proudly tell other people what you can do or have done คุยโว, โว, โม้, โอ้อวด
jihad – a holy war fought by Muslims to defend Islam สงครามศักดิ์สิทธิ์

To further understand the past simple, read the chapter in Understanding English verb forms: Understanding conditionals.

You can find a full description of Understanding English verb forms here:


You can buy the book online here:



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