After I teach real and unreal conditionals, I like to show my students the following example:
Speaker A and Speaker B are both entering a competition. Based on the following statements, who do you think is more optimistic about winning?:
Speaker A: If I win, I’ll be really happy.
Speaker B: If I won, I’d be really happy.
The answer: Speaker A probably is. He used a real conditional, while Speaker B used an unreal conditional.
If you teach grammar to ESL students, you know that we use real conditionals when we think that something is realistic (If it rains, I will being an umbrella), but we use unreal conditionals when we think that something is unlikely to ever happen (If I were president, I would give everyone free ice cream on Fridays.) So in the example above, Speaker A subconsciously thinks he has a good chance at winning, while Speaker B is not really so sure.
While it’s likely that neither speaker was thinking about the psychology behind their choice of words, it’s cool to think that your feelings are subtly reflected in your grammar.
What’s your favorite subtle grammar point to teach? Please share your ideas in the comment box at the bottom of the page.