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We can’t live without dreams. When we want something to happen, we set our minds in motion: What if…? If only I could… For instance, you probably sometimes close your eyes and think “If I was fluent in Russian, that’d be fantastic!”. If that is your case, continue reading, and we will help you make this dream come true (at least, a little bit).
Let's start with something easy and useful. Close your eyes and think of something you hope for the future. When you do it, you will create a “conditional sentence”. What a fancy name, right? We use these type of sentences to express a wish or a condition. A conditional sentence has two parts. One part always contains the word "if" (“если” in Russian) and the other part expresses the final result of our wish/condition:
Если я буду учить (future) русский каждый день, я буду говорить (future) очень хорошо.
If I learn (present) Russian every day, I will speak (future) very well.
Если ты будешь есть (future) овощи, ты будешь жить (future) 100 лет.
If you eat (present) vegetables, you will live (future) 100 years.
Pay attention: As we have seen, in English we use the present and future tenses while, in Russian, we use the future tense in both parts of the sentence. Don't try to find any logic here. Each language uses different tenses to express the same thing.
Sometimes we make complex wishes such as “If I had played that lottery number, I would have become a millionaire”. These sort of phrases are a bit more complicated to build in Russian, because we have to use the subjunctive.
Wait a minute! Again, a fancy word: subjunctive. Don’t worry, because it is very easy to form in Russian. Simply use "past tense + бы". And, what does subjunctive mean? It is a way we use in Russian and other languages to express wishes (for example "If I had more money,...")
And check this out, because we have good news: this “бы” that we need for these sort of sentences can be placed almost anywhere. Just have a look at the examples below where we show you all the possible positions of the particle “бы”.
If I had more time, I would be watching TV now.
Eсли (бы) у меня (бы) было (бы) больше времени, я (бы) смотрел (бы) сейчас телевизор.
If I had bought meat, I would have cooked soup.
Если (бы) я (бы) купил (бы) мясо, я (бы) приготовил (бы) суп.
Pay attention: Although we see many options to place “бы”, you have to place it only twice, one in each part of the sentence. For example:
Eсли бы у меня было больше времени, я бы смотрел сейчас телевизор.
If we add certain words, we can use the same sentence to talk about either the past or the present. You only need to give a bit of context and that's all. In the examples below, we see that just by adding "now" or "yesterday" we somehow change the tense of the sentence.
Если бы у меня сейчас было мясо, я бы приготовил суп.
If I had the meat now, I would cook soup.
Если бы у меня вчера было мясо, я бы приготовил суп.
If I had had the meat yesterday, I would have cooked soup.
Pay attention: As you can see, depending on the context we have to adapt the tenses used in the English translation. In other words, the same Russian verb can be translated into different tenses. In the examples above, the words "today" and "yesterday" gave us the clue about how to translate each sentence.
Have a look at the following examples to understand that you can easily express your wishes in Russian. There are many ways to write conditional sentences, but try to remember the following pattern: Start with "Если бы", then add what you wish, afterwards place "ябы + verb" and the rest of the sentence.
Если бы у меня были деньги, я бы купил большой дом.
If I had had money, I would have bought a big house.
Если бы у меня было время, я бы учил русский каждый день.
If I had time, I would learn Russian every day.
Если бы я написал интересную книгу, я был бы знаменитым.
If I had written an interesting book, I would be famous.
Если бы я не позвонил тебе, я бы не узнал эту хорошую новость.
If I had not called you, I wouldn’t have found out about this good news.
Our wishing tour has just begun. Now that you know the theory, it is time to practice. Start wishing and write it down: What have you dreamt of lately?
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