Sunday, January 9, 2011

Maybe if we sang a song, we'd learn conditionals quicker

You can find tutorials on just about everything on YouTube, including English grammar. Some of the best are videos illustrating English grammar with extracts from popular songs. But sometimes you have to be a little careful.

Revise and practise your conditionals with these quizzes using song lyrics.


Discussion - if you like, you can skip this bit and go straight to the exercises below

While looking for material for my 'lay and lie' post, I came across a video that used songs to illustrate the difference in use between the two words. I thought it was rather a good video, but was surprised the video uploader had labelled the first line of the chorus of 'Chasing Cars' by Snow Patrol as incorrect, when all I could see was lay, the Past Simple of lie, being correctly used in a Second Conditional (although as a question).

Chorus from 'Chasing Cars' by Snow Patrol

  • If I lay here,
  • If I just lay here
  • Would you lie with me
  • And just forget the world?
I posted a comment congratulating the uploader on his video, but gently pointing out the error. And he posted this reply:
I disagree, and I've also seen this same example in other posts. However, maybe the rest of the world is wrong and you are right.
Well, the rest of the world apart from the whole TEFL community, and every course book and ESL website I've ever seen, maybe. Perhaps they have a different system in the US, but I rather doubt it.
So a bit puzzled, as it's not a particularly complicated grammatical point, I posted back a reply, explaining that I was a teacher of English, and giving a little more detail about where I thought, in the nicest way, he was wrong. And Hey Presto, all comments disappeared, just like that. But on the uploader's YouTube user page, I noticed there was a video on conditionals, also illustrated with songs.

What do we mean by 1st, 2nd and 3rd Conditionals?

While I was watching this second video, the enigma was solved. The uploader has, let's say, a rather idiosyncratic idea of how conditionals work. Two slides in particular rang alarm bells:
Simply Red
If you don't know me by now, you'll never never never know me
Uploader's comment - Zero conditional, because it is a truth, it will happen ...
At which stage any intermediate + foreign student of English will be going:
Oh no, it's not! (to quote a recent post) It's ...
conditional?  
and then there's this one:
Pete Seeger
If I had a hammer, I'd hammer in the morning
Uploader's comment - 1st conditional, because it's happening ...
And this one is of course ... conditional?  
Now I don't blame any native speaker for not knowing how to use the terms 1st and 2nd conditional etc. There's absolutely no reason why they should. Like any other grammar, we pick up these constructions naturally when we are children, without learning names for them. As far as I know these terms aren't even used in normal grammar classes at school, but only when teaching English to foreigners (TEFL) or as a second language (ESL).
And I don't like to be too critical, because making these videos is a good idea, and I personally wouldn't even know where to start.
But I do think that someone who puts out an instructional video on YouTube, purporting to teach something, should have some idea of what they are talking about. And this video has had over 8000 views; some people are going to get a somewhat misleading idea of how conditionals work.

Who gets to decide which Conditional it is - the speaker or the listener?

The video maker's main divergence from the standard view is thinking that the terms First Conditional etc somehow relate to a later interpretation of a conditional statement, according to its probability. But as we know:
  1. it's the structures we use these terms for, not how the listener or reader sees the probability.
  2. it's the speaker who decides on the probability or possibility of the situation, albeit subconsciously, and who then chooses which conditional structure to use.
Here's an illustration: sometime in the nineties, gay men in San Francisco were asked what they would do in certain hypothetical situations. When asked about winning the lottery, the answer often went something like this:
If I win the lottery, I'll buy myself a nice big house.(1st conditional)
And when asked about HIV
If I got HIV, I'd have to get treatment.(2nd conditional)
Now unfortunately, getting HIV is much more likely for a gay man in San Francisco than winning the lottery. Not surprisingly however, people feel a lot more positive about the first situation, and would like it to be real, so they often use 1st Conditional in these circumstances. On the other hand, they feel pretty negative about the second, and would definitely like it to be unreal, so nearly always use 2nd Conditional.
Now we can debate the relative probability of these statements until the cows come home, but we can't change the fact that the first speaker chose a 1st Conditional, and the second one a 2nd Conditional, even if we disagree with their logic. Once the statement has been uttered, that's it. No debate as to which conditional it is. The speaker has spoken, so to speak.
And one final one from the video:
Joan Osborne
If God had a face, what would it look like?
Uploader's comment - Depending on your point of view or your religious view, this could be zero, 1st or 2nd conditionals
Sorry, but this is just poppycock. It can only be one. And it's Joan Osborne (or her songwriter) who gets to decide which. And she decided on:
conditional?  
Fortunately there's another video which has had rather more viewings, from TEFLMusic (link below), which gives the conventional view of conditionals, and is accompanied by excellent notes. TEFLMusic seems to be linked to a language school in Catalonia.
But that's enough of that, now for a little exercise.

Practice conditionals with song lines

Mouse over the buttons for instructions how to use Click and drop

Exercise 1

  1. Fill in the gaps from the top box
  2. Then decide which conditional is being used in these statements. Enter '0,1,2 or 3' into each of the boxes on the right
  3. Check your answers to the first two parts.
  4. Match the songs to the artists: enter the song numbers in to the boxes.
1.If I had a million dollars, I'd buy you for your house.
2.If you this, your children will be next
3.If I were a rich man, I have to work.
4.If it hadn't been for Cotton-Eye Joe, I'd [sic] been a long time ago
5.If I can't have you, I don't nobody, baby
6.If you don't know me , you'll never never know me.
7.If I were a boy, I'd of bed in the morning.
8.It's my party, and I'll cry if I
9.If I'd done right , I coulda done this (and) I coulda done that
10.If you miss me once in , then I'll return to you
11.If I said you had a beautiful body, would you hold it .
12.If you leave me now, you'll take away the of me.
Bellamy Brothers Simply Red Chicago
Yvonne Elliman Tracy Chapman Bare Naked Ladies
Lesley Gore Brian McKnight Rednex
Fiddler on the roof Beyoncé Manic Street Preachers

Exercise 2 - Fill the gaps to show how the various conditionals are constructed.

Note - This is a simplified schema (I've left out imperatives etc), and I've deliberately said present etc rather than present simple etc to allow for other possibilities

Conditionalif clauseresult clause
Zero if + ,
First if + , +
Second if + , +
Third if + , +

Three matching exercises

And finally three exercises matching the two clauses of conditionals, taken from more songs. All the lines are in First or Second Conditional. You can see the titles of the songs by mousing over the question numbers. Use the list at the bottom of the page to quickly find videos, lyrics, etc

Exercise 3a

1. Yes I woulda)if it makes you feel alright
2. If you gob)if I only could
3. oh, if I ever lose my handsc)if I had a little money. It's a rich man's world
4. I'll buy you a diamond ring my friendd)the first thing I'd like to do ...
5. If I could save time in a bottlee)I won’t have to work no more.
6. All the things I could dof)I will surely die

Exercise 3b

1. If I could turn back timea)I'd be as loaded as old Rockefeller
2. Wouldn't it be niceb)I'll make you a night like no night has been or will be again.
3. If I stand all alonec)I'd take back those words that hurt you
4. But if you stayd)Would it make you feel something so real
5. If I were to say that now I have everythinge)will the shadow hide the colour of my heart?
6. If I never had a centf)if we were older

Exercise 3c

1. If my true love he was gonea)then you would understand
2. You would cry toob)would you comfort me
3. If I had a hammerc)I'll do anything you ask me
4. If you could see inside my heartd)if it happened to you
5. If you want a lovere)I'd hammer in the morning.
6. If you had my love and I gave you all my trustf)I would surely find another

Answers to the exercises

Exercise 1

  • 1a furniture, tolerate, wouldn't, married, want, by now, roll out, want to, by you, a while, against me, biggest part
  • 2, 1, 2, 3, 0, 1, 2, 1, 3, 1, 2, 1
  • 1b 11, 6, 5, 10, 8, 9, 3, 7, 12, 1, 4, 2

Conditional forms - Exercise 2

  • Zero - present, present
  • 1st - present, will, 1st form
  • 2nd - past, would, 1st form
  • 3rd - past perfect, would have, 3rd form

Matching exercises

  • 3a b, f, e, a, d, c
  • 3bc, f, e, b, d, a
  • 3cf, d, e, a, c, b

Printer friendly post

When you print, the page after the exercises will show the answers.
I strongly recommend doing a Print Preview first. You might want to change your margins and you probably won't want to print every page.
When printed at 100%, the exercises are on Pages 5-7, and the answers are on Page 8.

Videos on YouTube


  • TEFLMusic - The songs with the lyrics but without comments. You need to open up the notes section to see the details, which include a lesson plan for teachers
  • Big Bang Theory - Second conditionals in a US sitcom
  • Taniussia - Video showing various situations wher you'd use First Conditional
  • GenkiJapanNet - Rappy song illustrating Second Conditional
  • gorwell97 - This is the problem one. But the songs, lyrics and graphics are fine. Just take the comments with a pinch of salt.
There are quite a lot of others, but not specifically connected with songs. And quite frankly, unless they're done really well, I find most language videos incredibly boring. Especially those that just stick a camera in front of a board.

List of songs using conditionals

This has been compiled from a lot of sources on the web, mainly by googling around. Thanks to everyone who makes their resources public. Click on 'G' to go straight into a Google search. This should bring up videos, lyrics, Wikipedia etc in one handy list.
Songs page. I already had my own lists of songs for illustrating various points, so I'm putting them all together on one page.

Zero conditional

I think this is stretching it a bit, but there's not a hell of a lot of songs about water boiling at 100 degrees centigrade
Yvonne EllimanIf I Can't Have YouG

First conditional

BeatlesCan't buy me loveG
Cat StevensMoonshadowG
ChicagoIf You Leave Me NowG
EminemIf I get Locked up TonightG
Leonard CohenI'm your manG
Manic Street PreachersIf You Tolerate This, Your Children Will Be NextG
PixiesHeyG
Rod StewartI don't want to talk about itG
Simply RedIf You Don't Know Me by NowG
Tom JonesIf You Go AwayG
Tracy ChapmanThe promiseG

First and second

Lesley GoreIt's my partyG
BeatlesShe's leaving homeG

Second conditional

AbbaMoney money moneyG
Bare Naked LadiesIf I had a million dollarsG
Beach BoysWouldn't it be niceG
BeatlesWith a little help from my friendsG
Bellamy BrothersIf I said you had a beautiful bodyG
BeyoncéIf I Were a BoyG
Bon JoviI’d Die For YouG
CherIf I could turn back timeG
Eric ClaptonTears in HeavenG
Fiddler on the roofIf I were a rich manG
Frank SinatraThe Sunny Side of the StreetG
Pete SeegerIf I had a hammerG
Joan OsborneOne of usG
Jim CroceTime in a bottleG
Jennifer LopezIf you had my loveG
Katie MehluaIf you were a sailboatG
MadonnaHolidayG
SilencersWild Mountain ThymeG
Simon and GarfunkelEl Condor pasaG
Steven SeagalGirl It's AlrightG

Third conditional

Brian McKnightCoulda, shoulda, wouldaG
Gracie FieldsIf I knew you were coming, I'd have baked a cakeG
RednexCotton-Eye JoeG

Mixed Conditionals

Here's hopin'

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