Tag Archives: Hypothetical

## GMAT Verbal ~ If / Then and Hypothetical Sentences

6 Feb

A favorite of both English teachers and apparently the GMAT is the good old hypothetical.  Hypothetical means “it’s possible” or “maybe” – “it might happen or it might not happen.”

Hypothetical sentences usually take the form “If ____, then ____” or “_____ must happen, or else _____”  “If” this condition occurs, “then” this result is possible or this result will happen.

The problem with hypotheticals (at least for me) is the fact that the verb you use changes depending on the certainty and timing of the result. Every hypothetical has two verbs – one in the “IF” portion and one in the “Then” portion.

The Hypothetical appears in several different forms:

1. If X had happened, then Y would also have happened. We are definitely certain here. Had the event X occurred, no question, Y would have followed. Did X happen? I don’t actually know. 🙂  Have you ever seen a movie where Person A says something like “She’s dead!” and Person B says “No! If she had died, I would have known it in my heart.”  Is she alive? Maybe – but perhaps Person B is wrong.  That isn’t really the point.  The point is, person B feels certain that if X, then Y would have occurred.  So -> we use the PAST PERFECT (had ____) verb for the “If” part and the CONDITIONAL PERFECT (would have _____) verb for the “Then” part.
1. If she had died, I would have felt it.
2. If X, then Y (always). Notice that this one is very certain.  Although it is possible X will not happen (thus the hypothetical), if it does it will CERTAINLY lead to Y.  Think of a scientist trying to test whether gravity is real or not.  Sure, it’s possible the apple won’t detach from the tree at all (let’s say it’s beginning of the season).  But we are 100% positive that if it does detach, it will fall down.  Because it happens EVERY TIME, it happens in the past, present, and future. So -> We use the PRESENT tense of the verb for both the “If” and the “Then” parts.
1. If the apple falls from the tree, it falls down.
3. If X, then (usually) Y . Here, we aren’t entirely certain, but usually the result is going to happen.  Assume I’m planning what time I should leave tomorrow morning to get to school.  Now, I know that on the average day, the trip takes me 15 minutes. I need to be there at 8:00.  So I should leave here at about 7:45.  That’s on a normal day – about 85% of the time, it works. But what if there is a huge car accident or we are expecting some snow?  There is a 15% chance that I should have left earlier. Me leaving at 7:45 and getting there at 8:00 usually happens no matter if it’s yesterday, today, or tomorrow.  SO -> We use the PRESENT tense of the verb for both the “If” and “then” parts.  BUT! We also add either “can” or “may” before the second verb to show that it is NOT a guaranteed certainty – it’s just possible.
1. If I leave the house at 7:45, I can arrive at 8:00.
4. If X happens this time, then Y will happen after that.  We have no specific information about what usually happens. We’re only talking about a specific event in this situation.  This sentence is arguing that if some special event occurs, then Y is CERTAINLY going to happen after that. SO -> We use the PRESENT tense of the verb for the “If” part and the FUTURE (will ___) for the “Then” part.  Because we add “will” – it shows the certainty we have.
1. If the conference lasts for another hour, I will miss dinner.
5. If X, then Y (but it’s unlikely that X will happen).  I like to put these sentences in a snarky or sarcastic tone.  You are trying to say that if something unlikely happened, then this would be the result.  Now either it’s unlikely because the odds are low (i.e. Zombie Apocalypse happening tomorrow) or because you don’t believe it (i.e. Me going to the city tomorrow).  In the first case, I’m being snarky because yeah, what are the odds.  In the second case, it’s actually about 20% possible it might happen,  I just don’t really think it will. In this situation, we are always talking about future events and we are VERY uncertain.  So -> We use the PAST tense  or  – if the verb is “to be” – “were to”) for the “If” part and (“Would” or “Could”) + PRESENT Verb for the “Then part”.
1. If the Zombie Apocalypse happened, then you would be the first to die
2. If I were to go to Zhengzhou tomorrow, then I could stop by Walmart on my way home.”

# SO WHAT TO LOOK FOR?:

• Usually one or the other side of the “If” / “Then” will be provided for you and will not  be underlined.  Watch for which verb appears then match it to the other.
• Situation 1: (Had Past) + (Would have Past)
• Situation 2: (Present) + (Present)
• Situation 3: (Present) + (May Present)
• Situation 4: (Present) + (Future)
• Situation 3: (Past) / (Were to ___) + (Would ____) *note no “have” here.

2 Feb

## SUBJUNCTIVE

I previously discussed the Infinitive form of verbs in a post a couple days ago.  You’ll hear the word Subjunctive in two place in GMAT review. The formation of the verb depends on its use in a sentence.

### VERSION #1

The “Hypothetical” use of the Subjunctive is by far the most common way this form appears in modern English.  Hypothetical means “it’s possible” or “maybe.”  Hypothetical sentences take the form “If ____, then ____” or “_____ must happen, or else _____”  “If” this condition occurs, “then” this result is possible.

For the hypothetical sentence, the subjunctive form is created by using the PAST TENSE of the verb.  “I ate“.  “If children ate their vegetables, they would grow taller.” If you need to use the verb “to be,” the subjunctive is “were.” “If you were home tomorrow, we could have a sleepover!”  If you need to, combine it with an INFINITIVE. “If children were to eat their vegetables, they would grow taller” “If you were to go home tomorrow, we could have a sleepover!

The hypothetical sentence will use a subjunctive in the “If” part of the sentence, but only IF A) there is no sign that the “If” must happen today or in the past and B) the result would occur in the future and C) there is no certainty that either will happen.  Note that “may” and “can” suggest something is more likely than not.  “Would” and “could” suggest more unlikely than likely. (*Don’t ask me why, that’s just how they interpret it on the GMAT)

• If Mary eats this fruit, she loses weight.” – NOT subjunctive. (this is guaranteed to happen when the “if” part is fulfilled. Every time. Also, the result is set in the present.)
• If Mary eats this fruit, she may lose weight.” – NOT subjunctive (“may” or “can” suggests that normally, this would happen. So little uncertainty.)
• If Mary eats this fruit tomorrow, she will lose weight.” – NOT subjunctive (about the future, but no uncertainty here. If x happens, then y).
• If Mary ate this fruit, she would lose weight.” – SUBJUNCTIVE! (She could eat it anytime in the future. The result thus would also happen in the future.  It is also not guaranteed that Mary will eat the fruit or that she will thus lose weight. “Would” suggests more unlikely than likely)

When the GMAT gives you a hypothetical sentence, remember that you must use the subjunctive verb in the IF part of the sentence.

### VERSION #2

The second use of the Subjunctive is closely related to the Infinitive form.  The subjunctive is created by taking the infinitive form (to jump) and eliminating the “to” portion -> “jump.”

• To swing -> Swing
• To laugh -> Laugh
• Was, Were, Are -> Be

As with version #1, you can also combine “were” + Infinitive for this version.  This form of the Subjunctive is used in mainly two situations:

1. When you are expressing that something should or could  or you wish would happen. Very similar to the hypothetical in that there is no guarantee that it actually will happen.
1. I hope that you eat the apple. “
2. I suggest that you come to my house
3. I would appreciate it if you were to visit our grandmother.”
2. When you are acting like an annoying older sister by telling people what to doHere, although you are making it a sentence, what you are really expressing is a command. (And you could certainly write it as a command).  Because it’s just a nice way of phrasing a polite demand, you use the same verb you would use in a real command (the Subjunctive).
1. “I recommend that you eat the apple.” – Sounds a lot like “Eat the apple!”
2. “The teacher ordered that the students be ready for a pop quiz.”  = “Be ready for a pop quiz!”

Please note the importance of “that” for this version.  This version always follows a certain pattern (clue!):

• Verb + That + (subject + Subjunctive)

If you don’t have the “that” in there, it isn’t subjunctive.  For example, in the sentence “The teacher ordered that the students be ready for a pop quiz” we know that it is subjunctive because it includes the word “that.”

But what about the following sentence: “The teacher ordered the students to be ready for a pop quiz.” = OK, but it uses the infinitive “to be” instead of the subjunctive because there is NO “THAT“!

*Just be careful which verbs are command verbs and which are not. For example, “I forbid” requires an infinitive “I forbid you to ____” instead of a subjunctive.