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The Parts of a Conditional Sentence
A conditional sentence in Latin has two different parts. The first is the conditional clause, which in English is equivalent to the clause that begins with “if.” The second part of the conditional sentence is the conclusion, which in English is equivalent to the clause that begins with “then.” When we write a conditional sentence in Latin, we have three types of sentence formation: conditional sentences of fact, conditional sentences of doubt, and conditional sentences contrary to fact. Let's go over each of these types.
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First Type: Conditional Sentences of Fact
The first type of conditional sentence in Latin is the conditional sentence of fact: this means the conditional clause assumes a truth, and the conclusion states a fact. Let's look at an example (from "Smith's First Year Latin"):
Caesar sī pugnat, vincit.
If Caesar fights, he conquers.
When we form a conditional sentence of fact, both the conditional clause and conclusion are in the indicative mood. While the mood stays the same, the tense changes depending on time frame. Let's see how our first example, Caesar sī pugnat, vincit, changes based on the time.
When we form a fact conditional sentence in the present time, the present tense of the indicative is used (our original example).
When we form a fact conditional sentence in the past time, we have two choices in verb tense. The first choice is the imperfect tense. For example:
Caesar sī pugnābat, vincēbat.
If Caesar was fighting, he was conquering.
The other verb option is the perfect form. For example:
Caesar sī pugnāvit, vīcit.
If Caesar fought, he conquered.
For fact conditional sentences in the future time, we use the future tense. Let's see how our example changes:
Caesar sī pugnābit, vincet.
If Caesar fights, he will win.
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Second Type: Conditional Sentences of Doubt
The second type of conditional sentence in Latin is the conditional sentence of doubt. We use this sentence when we want to say that a certain condition should be fulfilled, rather than a fact. The mood for the second type of conditional sentence is the subjunctive, and the time is in the future. However, the verb tense for both the conditional clause and the conclusion is the future. For example:
Caesar sī pugnet, vincat.
If Caesar should fight, he would conquer.
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Third Type: Conditional Sentences Contrary to the Fact
In the last type of conditional sentence, the conclusion contradicts, rather than states a fact. The mood for the conditional sentences contrary to the fact is the subjunctive. If the sentence is in the present time, we use the imperfect tense. For example:
Caesar sī pugnāret, vinceret.
If Caesar were fighting, he would be conquering.
If we are writing the sentence in the past time, we use the pluperfect tense. For example:
Caesar sī pugnāvisset, vīcisset.
If Caesar had fought, he would have conquered.
- Smith, Minnie L., and Harold G. Thompson. Smith's First Year Latin. Allyn and Baco, 1933