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The Wizarding Guide to Conditional Sentences

Conditional Sentences

Conditional Sentences

  • If I don’t read every day, I get very grumpy.
  • If I read Harry Potter enough, I’ll surely receive my acceptance letter to Hogwarts.
  • If I hadn’t read the entire series multiple times, I wouldn’t be able to write this article about wizardry and the types of conditional sentences.
  • Unless you have something against magic, you should enjoy reading this post as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.

Not only do the above sentences show how nerdy (read: awesome) I am, but they are also all conditional sentences. In fact, they demonstrate all four types of conditional sentences: the real conditional, the unreal conditional, the mixed conditional, and the special conditional. Cool, right?

Okay, so I know that learning about conditional sentences isn’t exactly as exciting as, say, Quidditch. And believe me, if I could wave my wand (11.5-inch beechwood with a unicorn hair core, in case you were wondering) and magically put this knowledge in your head, I would. However, if Harry Potter has taught me anything, it’s that people cannot be taught unless they are willing to learn. And that, my friend, is why you shall have to take up your own study of the types of conditional sentences—with my help, of course. And yes, you do have to call me “Professor.”

What Is a Conditional Sentence?

A conditional sentence describes something that is a condition for something else. That is, for one thing to occur, the other must have occurred first. Conditionals often, though not always, begin with if, like these:

If I fail Potions, I won’t be able to become an Auror.

If Snape weren’t so scary, I wouldn’t do so poorly in Potions.

Not all conditional sentences begin with if. In some examples, the conditional portion of the sentence actually occurs in the second part of the sentence. In these cases, no comma is required.

You should try out for the Seeker position if you want to play Quidditch.

Meet Harry at the pitch when you’re done Herbology class.

That wasn’t so hard, right? Learning about conditional sentences is as easy as Wingardium Leviosa—just remember to use the swish and flick, and you’ll have it down in no time! Now on to slightly more complicated spells—er, I mean, grammar rules.

Real and Unreal Conditionals

Conditionals can be real or unreal. That is, they can describe an event that has happened or is likely to happen, or they can describe an event that has not happened and is not likely to happen. Here are some examples of real conditionals.

I feel happy when I read Harry Potter.

If someone borrows my copy of The Philosopher’s Stone, that person must promise to return it within a week.

Here are some unreal conditional sentences:

If I were an Animagus, I would definitely transform into an owl.

If Rowling hadn’t written the Harry Potter books, the world would have been a less magical place.

The first example is an unreal conditional because I am not, in fact, an Animagus, and sadly, I have no hope of becoming one. The second is an unreal conditional because Rowling did write the Harry Potter books (thank goodness!).

Mixed Conditionals

A mixed conditional sentence is one that occurs when the two clauses—the if clause and the main clause—occur in two different time periods. A mixed conditional may be saying that an event that is currently occurring will cause a future event, or it may be saying that an event that has already happened is affecting a current event. These examples should help make things a bit clearer.

If you’ve ever been in a tangle with Devil’s Snare, you know how unwise it is to struggle against the plant’s constriction.

If I had attended Hogwarts like I was supposed to, I would probably be a Transfiguration professor by now.

It should be noted that like other types of conditional sentences, mixed conditionals can be either real or unreal. The above examples could be classified as either real or unreal, depending on how seriously you take your favorite fictional universes.

Special Conditionals

Of all the types of conditional sentences, special conditionals are probably the trickiest to understand. Special conditionals describe events that can only occur if something else happens first. There are five common forms of special conditional sentences: unless, whether (or not), even if/even though, only if/if only, if so/if not.

Confused? Fair enough. Allow me to shed some Lumos on special conditionals with these brief explanations and examples:

Unless: The event will not occur except under a set of specified conditions. The condition is an exception to what is otherwise the rule.

Harry would not have been able to conjure a Patronus charm unless Professor Lupin had taught him how.

Whether / Or Not: Whether is used in the place of if when there is more than one option, and or not comes into play when one of the options is the opposite of the other. Whether means that, regardless of the options, the same course of action will be taken.

Whether he wins or dies, Harry will still be upset that someone entered him in the Triwizard Tournament.

Whether it’s right or not, Harry can’t help but have a crush on Ginny.

Even If / Even Though: Even if means that, regardless of the existence of the condition, the outcome of the event will not change. Even though means that the condition certainly does exist, but it still will not affect the outcome of the event.

I will remain loyal to Professor Dumbledore even if no one else is.

I will remain loyal to Professor Dumbledore even though he is dead.

Only If / If Only: The first phrase places an emphasis on the special condition that must be met for an event to occur. If only is used in an unreal conditional to express wishes or regrets.

Ron agrees that Harry can date Ginny only if they keep the snogging to a minimum.

If only I had been born after 1998, I would certainly have received my Hogwarts acceptance letter.

If So / If Not: This type of conditional sentence features a shortened if clause that is used because the condition has already been mentioned.

Gilderoy Lockhart is supposed to be signing autographs today. If so, Flourish and Blotts is going to be very busy.

I hope I have time to buy a new broomstick. If not, I’ll have to borrow someone else’s for now.


And that, dear student, concludes my lesson on the different types of conditional sentences. If you think that using Harry Potter to learn about grammar is as cool as taking down a mountain troll, you might want to check out these Harry Potter-themed articles on homophones, comma usage, interrogative sentences, subject–verb agreement, ellipses, exclamatory sentences, and pronouns.

If you’d like to learn about the other kinds of sentences, check out Inklyo’s newest ebook, The Complete Guide to Sentence Structure, on Amazon or at your local Flourish and Blotts.

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Sentence Structure Ebook

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Saying It All with the Compound-Complex Sentence

Compound-Complex Sentence

A red telephone.

Do you know what I love most about English grammar? How little there is to learn.

Everything is so simple, so straightforward. I never feel confused about any of it. That’s why everyone is so good at learning the ins and outs of English grammar: it’s so easy.

Ha, ha, ha. I know—I’m hilarious.

Of course, mastering the rules of any language is a challenge, but for some, English is a particularly difficult nut to crack. Take, for example, sentence structure. There are four basic sentence structures in English, and the first three—simple sentences, compound sentences, and complex sentences—are relatively easy to understand.

But what the heck is a compound-complex sentence? How many darn clauses can we possibly squeeze into one sentence, anyway?

A Quick Recap of Sentence Structure

If you’re having a hard time remembering what the different sentence structures are, take a look at the handy chart below. In the examples, independent clauses are marked by italics, while dependent clauses are in bold font.

A chart of the types of sentences.

Independent and Dependent Clauses Revisited

A quick reminder: an independent clause can stand on its own as a sentence, while a dependent clause cannot. It’s easy to distinguish the two types of clauses if you simply separate them from their sentence and see if they still make sense. For example:

I have never been a great student, but because I like grammar, I have spent a lot of time studying sentence structure.

There are two independent clauses in this sentence. These clauses can act as their own sentences:

I have never been a great student.

I have spent a lot of time studying sentence structure.

The dependent clause cannot stand on its own:

But because I like grammar.

As you can see, the dependent clause makes no sense on its own. It depends on the other clauses in the sentence to give it context and meaning. Because the full sentence contains two independent clauses and one dependent clause, it is a compound-complex sentence.

The Compound-Complex Sentence

Still confused? Fair enough. Let’s take a more extensive look at the compound-complex sentence. As mentioned, a compound-complex sentence is composed of two independent clauses and at least one dependent clause. The compound-complex sentence is a combination of the compound sentence, which combines independent clauses, and the complex sentence, which combines an independent clause with a dependent clause. Let’s look at another example, preferably one that has nothing to do with grammar itself.

Here are all the things I want to say:

I am hungry.

I could eat an elephant.

I’ll eat a muffin instead.

Rather than using three simple sentences, I can combine all three thoughts into one compound-complex sentence:

I am so hungry that I could eat an elephant, but I’ll eat a muffin instead.

The two independent clauses have been joined by a conjunction (in this case, the subordinating conjunction that), and the dependent clause has been joined to the two independent clauses using another conjunction (but).

Here is another example:

I dislike mornings.

It’s very early to be at work.

I’m excited to go back to bed.

These simple sentences can be combined as follows:

I’m excited to go back to bed, as it’s very early to be at work, and I dislike mornings.

Still Stumped?

If you’re still struggling to grasp the compound-complex sentence, why not give this sentence structure quiz a try? Not only does it cover the most complicated of the sentence types, but it also tests you on the other three types. By the time you’re done, you’ll be identifying sentence structure types faster than I can express a desire for baked goods. And let me tell you, that’s pretty darn fast.

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Sentence Structure Ebook

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How to Identify Independent and Dependent Clauses


Independent and Dependent Clauses

What Is a Clause?

A clause is a group of words containing both a subject (who or what the sentence is about) and a verb (which describes the main action of the subject). There are two kinds of clauses: independent and dependent clauses. Most simply, an independent clause can form a complete sentence on its own and a dependent clause cannot (at least, not by itself).

Think of it this way: an independent clause is like a cup of coffee, and a dependent clause is like a caffeine lover. Caffeine lovers are dependent on coffee, so the two can be joined (quite happily) to form a cohesive unit. Similarly, two cups of coffee, or two independent clauses, can be combined. However, you cannot put two caffeine-dependent people together to form a working unit without any coffee. It just doesn’t work. They need caffeine.

The same is true with sentences. You can join an independent clause and a dependent clause. You can even join two independent clauses (as long as you use proper punctuation and/or a coordinating conjunction). But you can’t stick two dependent clauses together and expect to form a sentence.

Simple enough, right? Let’s go into more detail and look at some examples of independent and dependent clauses.

Independent Clauses

Independent and Dependent Clauses Infographic
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An independent clause contains a subject (again, who or what the sentence is about) and a predicate (which tells us something about the subject, such as what the subject is doing). As mentioned, these clauses can function as their own complete sentences, but they can also be combined with other clauses (either independent or dependent) to create longer sentences. Consider this example:

The coffee was brewing because it was early morning.

We can break this sentence down into two parts. The first part is the coffee was brewing. This is an independent clause because it contains both a subject and a verb: the subject is the coffee and the verb phrase is was brewing. This clause can stand on its own as a complete sentence.

The coffee was brewing.

However, we still have additional information:

. . . because it was early morning.

This is not an independent clause because it lacks a subject. Instead, we have a dependent clause (also called a subordinate clause). Dependent clauses can’t stand alone; that is, they require the support of independent clauses to constitute a complete sentence, just as the coffee lover needs coffee to function.

Joining Independent Clauses

An independent and a dependent clause can be joined to form a single sentence, as you’ve seen in the above example. But can two independent clauses be joined in one sentence? Let’s go back to that delicious cup of coffee. Here is a sentence with one independent clause and one dependent clause.

The coffee was brewing because it was early morning.

Let’s delete because and form two sentences:

The coffee was brewing. It was early morning.

We now have two independent but related clauses, each forming its own sentence. Because the content of these clauses is related, we might want to connect them somehow. How can we do this in a single sentence? Using a semicolon, of course!

The coffee was brewing; it was early morning.

What initially began as a sentence made up of an independent and a dependent clause has become a sentence with two independent clauses. If semicolons aren’t really your style, you can also use a comma and a conjunction to join two independent clauses. Like two cups of coffee poured into one humongous cup, two independent clauses can be joined with little work.

Dependent Clauses

Sentence Structure EbookAs you’ve already learned, dependent clauses cannot stand alone in a sentence, just as tired people cannot function without coffee. A dependent (or subordinate) clause begins with a subordinating conjunction, such as if, after, before, because, although, or when, and it requires the support of an independent clause to constitute a complete sentence.

There are a few different types of dependent clauses: adjective clauses, adverbial clauses, and noun clauses.

Adjective Clauses

An adjective clause is a dependent clause that describes a noun in another part of a sentence. Usually, an adjective clause is very close to the noun it describes. Adjective clauses begin with the relative pronouns who, whom, whose, that, or which. They can also begin with the relative adverbs whenwhere, or why.

There’s the café that you’ve been looking for all day.

The subject is the café. Pay close attention to the word that and what follows it. The phrase that you’ve been looking for all day gives us information about or describes the noun café. That means it’s an adjective clause, and because an adjective clause is a type of dependent clause, it cannot stand on its own.

Adverbial Clauses

Adverbial clauses are dependent clauses that tell us why, when, how, or under which conditions something occurs. Look at the following example.

Although you already had six cups of coffee, you decided to buy more coffee anyway.

We know the adverbial clause can’t be you decided to buy more coffee anyway because it can stand alone as a complete sentence. However, the adverbial clause, although you already had six cups of coffee, tells us under what circumstances you decided to buy more coffee. The adverbial clause, which is a dependent clause, needs the independent clause to form a complete sentence.

Noun Clauses

Noun clauses can act as either the subject or the object of a clause, and they usually begin with words like what, whywho, and that.

I don’t care what the doctors say about caffeine intake.

In the first part of the sentence, the subject is I, and don’t care is the verb phrase. The noun clause is what the doctors say about caffeine intake. This clause describes what it is that the subject doesn’t care about and is therefore dependent (like some caffeine-obsessed people I know).


Here’s a brief summary: independent clauses are made up of a subject and predicate, and can stand alone as a sentence. Like cups of coffee, they’re perfect on their own. Dependent clauses are made up of a subject and predicate but cannot stand alone due to the presence of a subordinating word, such as althoughif, or because. Dependent clauses are like coffee lovers; they cannot stand on their own. They need coffee!

Dependent clauses can be any of the following: adjective clauses, which describe nouns; adverbial clauses, which tell us whywhen, how, or under which conditions something occurs in a sentence; or noun clauses, which act as the subject or the object of a clause and usually begin with words like whatwhywho, and that. Dependent clauses need independent clauses like coffee lovers need coffee. Together, they can’t be stopped!

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The Order of Adjectives

Order of Adjectives Poster
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You might be thinking, “Order of adjectives? Can’t I just lump them all together in front of the noun and call it a day?” It might surprise you to discover that when adjectives are presented in a series, there’s actually a particular order they must follow. Often, native English speakers follow this order out of habit, knowing that “the big red car” sounds better than “the red big car.”

However, for those just learning the language, understanding the correct order of adjectives can be tricky. Here is the order a list of adjectives should follow:

  1. Determiner
  2. Opinion
  3. Size
  4. Age
  5. Shape
  6. Color
  7. Material
  8. Origin
  9. Purpose

We’ll explain what each of these means and provide some examples so you can figure out exactly where you should be placing different types of adjectives in relation to your noun. (The noun here is puppies. Because everybody loves puppies.)


Determiners include articles (a, an, or the) and other limiters (e.g., your, eight, or his).

Ten lovable, small, young, pudgy, beige, fuzzy, French pet puppies.

The determiner in the example is ten (because you can never have too many puppies).


An adjective of opinion describes an observation or what someone thinks about something (e.g., beautiful, tasty, or horrific).

Ten lovable, small, young, pudgy, beige, fuzzy, French pet puppies.

The opinion in the example is lovable (even though some would argue that’s not so much an opinion as a fact).


Size describes how big or small something is (e.g., bigsmall, minuscule, or enormous).

Ten lovable, small, young, pudgy, beige, fuzzy, French pet puppies.

The size in the example is small.


As you would expect, age describes how young or old something is (e.g., youngoldancient, or new).

Ten lovable, small, young, pudgy, beige, fuzzy, French pet puppies.

The age in the example is young. (We’re talking puppies, not dogs. Not everyone is a dog person, but everyone is a puppy person.)


The next descriptor is the shape of the item being described (e.g., roundsquare, or flat).

Ten lovable, small, young, pudgy, beige, fuzzy, French pet puppies.

The shape in the example is pudgy. Awww!

Parts of Speech


Over halfway there, folks! Next in the list is color (e.g., redpinkish, or yellow).

Ten lovable, small, young, pudgy, beige, fuzzy, French pet puppies.

The color is usually pretty easy to spot. In the example, it’s beige.


The material describes what something is made out of (e.g., woodencotton, silver, or metal).

Ten lovable, small, young, pudgy, beige, fuzzy, French pet puppies.

Although we all know puppies are made out of love and happiness, technically speaking it’s probably more accurate to describe them as fuzzy.


Origin describes where something is from (e.g., Frenchwestern, or solar).

Ten lovable, small, young, pudgy, beige, fuzzy, French pet puppies.

The origin in the example is French. (These are French bulldog puppies, a breed that originates, as you would expect, in France.)


Purpose describes what something is used for or what it does (e.g., racing [as in racing car] or sleeping [as in sleeping bag]).

Ten lovable, small, young, pudgy, beige, fuzzy, French pet puppies.

The purpose of these puppies is to be companions, so the adjective in the example is pet.


Now that you’ve listed all the adjectives, it’s time to identify the word you have been describing (i.e., the noun). Finally! We have reached the puppies.

Ten lovable, small, young, pudgy, beige, fuzzy, French pet puppies.

In the example, the noun is puppies, in case you didn’t get the memo . . .


While there are no rules limiting the number of adjectives that can be used, two or three are generally sufficient. (Otherwise, you begin to sound like Al Harrington of Family Guy marketing his Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm-Flailing Tubemen!) Most readers would prefer to read “pudgy, fuzzy puppies” than “ten lovable, small, young, pudgy, beige, fuzzy, French pet puppies.” Though I’d take either, if we’re being perfectly honest.

Now that you’ve got the order of adjectives down, find out how to use the other parts of speech with this handy ebook!