Pedagogical Benefits of the Contrastive Analysis (Conditional Sentences)

The contrastive analysis offers benefits in achieving pedagogical purposes. Not every aspect of two languages being compared is relevant. Let’s start from the similarities of the conditional sentence in French and English, in order to discover what is different in Romanian.

A. Logical and semantic approach of conditional sentence

Usually, conditional sentence has to do with hypothetical situation and their consequences. We can resume it at the statement “If one thing p happens, then another thing q will happen.” In rewriting logic sentences, we have p → q. We can say: If p, then q (English). / Si p, alors q (French). This is a logical implication with the antecedent p and the consequence q. The implication is false only when the antecedent is true and the consequence is false. In all other three cases, the implication is true (logical implication table).

How to prove the truth value of an implication?  The issue is the reference to the scientific knowledge. Example: If the children don’t brush their teeth, they get cavities. / Si les enfants ne se brossent pas les dents, ils font des caries. (1) The sentence (1) reveals general truths, facts that are facts that are known and proved to be true, circumstances in which one thing always causes another. This is called the conditional sentence type 0. Its meaning is undeniable; you could say that the sentence is definitely true. The statement (1) is composed of two clauses:
(a) The children don’t brush their teeth. / Les enfants ne se brossent pas les dents.
(b) They get cavities. / Ils font des caries.

The logical connector if / si reveals the logical and semantic relationship of the implication between the clauses (a) and (b) in order to build the coherent meaning in a complex sentence. The connector then / alors isn’t linguistically expressed, but it is understandable, it stands to reason that the fact of (b) is the consequence of the antecedent fact of (a). If a, (then) b. / Si a, (alors) b. The conditional sentences have to do with hypothetical situations and their consequences. “IF” one thing p happens, “THEN” another thing q will happen. We could express the conditional sentences in rewriting logic sentences: p → q. We can say: If p, then q. (English) / Si p, alors q. (French)

The conditional sentence type 0 is the closest to logical implication. It reveals general truths, facts that are known and proved to be true, circumstances in which one thing always causes another. Its meaning is undeniable; you could say that the sentence is definitely true because of the cultural, scientific knowledge. You have no doubt about the truth value of the statement. You are sure that the statement is generally true or false.Examples: If the children don’t brush their teeth, they get cavities. (1) / If a woman smiles at a man, it means that she has fallen in love with him. (2) You are sure that the statement (1) is true. It’s a statement whose truth value is medically proved. Regarding the sentence (2), there is about the manipulation tactic of the communication or the mentality in a missogynist background. Could you be sure of its truth value? At first blush, the sentence seems true.  By reference to the social and psychological field, we can find that a woman smiles at someone, when she is feeling sympathy for that person or she is giving him or her a warm impression and positive energy.  Some people keep a smile at others on all time in public too. A smile is in fact a facial expression of the sociability. This reveals the quality of being sociable. The fact that a woman has fallen in love when she smiles at a man this is a particular case. There isn’t not at all a general truth; on the contrary, the statement presents a dissimulate content in the form of a general truth. Therefore the statement (2) is false.

The conditional sentence is related to the logical thinking. Linguistically, the words “if”, respectively “si” are recognized as obvious logical operators, and the verb tenses in the subordonate clauses are present simple or continuous, past simple or continuous, perfect simple or continuous, respectively indicative tenses in French grammar (présent, imparfait, passé composé, plus-que-parfait). We notice that the verb forms in the dependent clause belong to the real field of actions. Regarding main clauses, the verb forms belong to hypothetical field of actions. The idea of consequence in the independent clasuses is usually expressed by the conditional forms.

A common error is to use conditional verbs in conditional clauses introduced with “if”, respectively ”si”. The simple use of the logical connector in the dependent clauses excludes the use of the conditional verbs. This commun error could be similar to the pleonasm or could reveal the inhability to recognize linguistically the meaning of the conjunction “if”, in connection with the logical system of thiking. Example of typical error: If I would have enough money, I could buy a new phone. (If I had […]) / Si j’aurais assez d’argent, je pourrais acheter un nouveau portable. (Si j’avais […])

B. Types of conditional sentences

In English and French languages, there are 3 types of conditional sentences.

The first conditional sentence refers to a real or possible condition and its probable result in the future. Here we are at the line between real and imaginary. Examples:
If people adopt healthy eating habits, the risk of heart diseases would be considerably lowering. / Si le monde a de bonnes habitudes alimentaires, le risque de maladies cardiaque va diminuer. (3)
If you respect your need to sleep, the learning outcomes will be better. / Si tu respectes ton besoin de sommeil, les résultats d’apprentissage seront meilleurs. (4)

The statement (3) contains a condition referring to the population with healthy eating habits. It is possible to have healthy eating habits regarding all the people, but that doesn’t happen really, considering only a portion of people with healthy eating habits. The result has a probability to appear in different degrees, we can have a decrease in heart disease risk or not. The probability means the event is more or less close to the aria of the accomplishment. As the condition cannot be completely fulfilled, then we have the result depending of the monitoring capacity in the aria of the real; consequently we remain in the aria of the imaginary, we cannot monitor the entire world.

In the statement (4), we are more close to the aria of the real. It’s about an individual case. For example, a student who is analyzing his need of sleep, he could make the decision to live in quiet neighborhoods. In this way, the condition is fulfilled, and the result happens; he obtains better learning outcomes in the future. We have an accomplishment in the aria of the real, but we can have also a failure to get the result. The student couldn’t afford to live in quiet neighborhoods. Then he fails to follow the sleep schedule. This means that he doesn’t respect his need to sleep, and the learning outcomes will not be better. We remain in the aria of the imaginary.

The second conditional sentence refers to a hypothetical condition. Now, we are completely in the aria of the imaginary, nothing is true in the present, but it could be possible, or may never be so. Examples:
If I was you, I would start a new life abroad. / Si j’étais toi, je commencerais une nouvelle vie à l’étranger. (5)
If I built a house with a garden, my family could have decent living conditions. / Si je construisais une maison avec un jardin, ma famille pourrait vivre dans des conditions décentes. (6)

The logical and semantic reasoning of the sentence (5): I cannot be you, but I imagine myself to be in your situation that will never happen. I am empathizing with you. The logical and semantic reasoning of the sentence (6) related to a life situation: I’m a father and I’m not happy with my lifestyle.

The third conditional sentence is used to expound that the present situation would be different if something else had happened in the past. The exposed condition was sufficient, but did not happen in the past. Example: If George hadn’t been so hungry, he wouldn’t have eaten three hamburgers. / Si Georges n’avait pas eu tellement faim, il n’aurait pas mange trois hamburgers. (7)

The logical and semantic reasoning related to (7): A person talks about an unpleasant past event. It’s about George’s culinary excess, a negative side of his behavior. The statement contains a manipulative intent. In reality, he is not like that, although the facts are obvious. This happened because he was very hungry.

Regarding the second and the third conditional sentences, there is the same grammar rule in both English and French. In the subordinate clause introduced with “if”, indicative verbs are used, while in the main clause, conditional verbs appear. Native Romanian speakers quite freauently make the mistake of putting a conditional verb in the clause introduced by if / si. This happens because the conditional clause in Romanian is built with the conditional verbs. The conditional verb appears also in the main clause. There is an emphasis on the idea the facts that are being talking are not real, they did not happen. It is remembered both in the main and in the subordinate, that the presented facts belong to an imaginary univers, while the conjunction „dacă” does not take this role unlike French or English language.

There are some ADVANTAGES of exploiting the contrastive approach in teaching and learning foreign languages: minimizing error rates, encouraging logical thinking, a new focus on the meaning across linguistic and cultural barriers, flexibility in thinking, solving problems in a new way.


ANTON Laura, English grammar practice – The verb, Booklet, București, 2014
ROCIOLA Rose, ANDROMAQUE – KEMP, Sheena, Gramatica limbii engleze, Litera, 2017
ILAȘ, Magda, Memorator de logică, Booklet, 2013
JEANRENAUD, Alfred, Langue française contemporaine, Polirom, Iași, 1996


prof. Olimpia Gheorghe

Școala Gimnazială Miron Costin, Galați (Galaţi) , România
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