Easy English Grammar

Do You Know This Little English Trick to Make People Laugh?

Ellipsis - Do You Know This Little English Trick to Make People Laugh

This is the last of a 3-part series on advanced conditionals in English.

Click here for part 1 (mixed conditionals).

Click here for part 2 (inverted conditionals).


You may have noticed that I’m a big fan of humour and being funny.

I mean — who doesn’t like laughing?

But there’s another reason I crack jokes all the time.

And it’s also the reason I want you to start trying to be funny in English.

Why?

Well, a lot of jokes work by playing around with the language.

When you play around with a language, you’re becoming a master of it.

And you wanna be an English Master, right? A hilarious English Master.

You can find humour in language in lots of different ways — through pronunciation, through grammar, through phrases and wordplay.

Today, I want to share with you one of my favourite little tricks in English.

It’s not always used to be funny, but in some situations, it can really make people laugh.

Remember that timing is everything!

Ellipsis after Conditionals

Think about this question:

Why do we use those hypothetical conditionals (the second and third conditionals)?

These conditionals are all about what’s NOT real. We’re dreaming — imagining a world that doesn’t exist.

So sometimes, it’s kind of fun to bring the whole sentence crashing back down to earth again — forcing the conversation back to reality.

Second Conditional Sentence

English Ellipsis Example

Two Stick Figures

Here’s how to do it:

1. Take your hypothetical sentence:

If Batman was here, he’d save us!

2. Convert the unreal sentence to a real one, and add “but” and “so.”

But he isn’t here, so he won’t save us.

3. Remove anything after the auxiliaries:
What’s an auxiliary verb? Click here.

Auxiliary Verbs


You might also know these as “helping verbs.”

In any sentence with a verb in it, the auxiliary is between the subject and the verb.

Usually you can see it:

He’s eating giraffe soup again.


or

I can see him!



Sometimes you can’t see it, but it’s there:

I live here. – I (do) live here.


or

She met him at an elephant factory. – She (did) meet him at an elephant factory.



The easy way to find the auxiliary? Just use the question form – it’ll be the first word of the question:

Is he eating giraffe soup again?


Can you see him?


Do you live here?


Have they even looked at the report?


Did she meet him at an elephant factory?

But he isn’t here, so he won’t save us.

Like this:

If Batman was here, he’d save us. But he isn’t, so he won’t.

What’s that? You want more examples? OK, then.

The Second Conditional

So here’s the conditional sentence:

If I liked horror films, I’d totally come and watch IT with you.

None of this is real, right? So let’s describe the reality:

I don’t like horror films. I won’t come and watch IT with you.

And then shorten it to the auxiliaries:

I don’t. I won’t.

And add “but” and “so”:

But I don’t, so I won’t.

Don’t forget that this goes at the end of the original sentence:

If I liked horror films, I’d totally come and watch IT with you. But I don’t, so I won’t.

The Third Conditional

If I’d listened to you, I would’ve won all the cakes.

Let’s describe the reality:

I didn’t listen to you. I didn’t win all the cakes.

Shorten it:

I didn’t. I didn’t.

Add “but” and “so”:

But I didn’t, so I didn’t.

And remember to add it to the original sentence:

If I’d listened to you, I would’ve won all the cakes. But I didn’t, so I didn’t.

Mixed Conditionals

If I hadn’t taken this job, I would regret it.

I took this job. I don’t regret it.

I did. I don’t.

But I did, so I don’t.

If I hadn’t taken this job, I would regret it. But I did, so I don’t.

This feature of English is also very useful if you want to turn down (reject) an invitation.

Maybe Eric wants you to come to his house and check out his stamp collection.

That’s when you can say this:

Sorry, Eric. I would if I could, but I can't.
This is a post about humour, so I feel I should write something funny here. But what? Have you got any ideas?

One thing to remember: this doesn’t work with inverted conditionals. It just sounds weird!

Doing this sounds kind of funny because of the contrast between the “dreaming” and “realism.”

But it’s also useful because it can bring the focus back to a conversation — creating unreal situations can be interesting, but it’s not always the most constructive thing.

OK. Kind of simple, right? (Kind of.)

An added advantage of this trick is that you really practice controlling those auxiliary verbs!

Need some practice? Try bringing these sentences back down to earth for me. Answer in the comments!

  1. If I could fly, I would catch drones.
  2. If I’d studied science at uni, I’d be earning a lot of money by now.
  3. If the neighbours didn’t listen to metal all the time, I might be less stressed.
  4. If you understood me, you wouldn’t be making that face.

 

Did you find this useful? Do you know any people (or cats) that might also benefit from this? Then BE AWESOME AND SHARE! Spread the knowledge!


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10 thoughts on “Do You Know This Little English Trick to Make People Laugh?

  1. “If I could, I would, but I can’t, so I shan’t.”
    Says Sheldon Cooper in The Skank Reflex Analysis, and It’s one of my favourite jests.

  2. If I could fly, I would catch drones. But I can’t, so I won’t.
    If I’d studied science at uni, I’d be earning a lot of money by now. But I didn’t, so I won’t.
    If the neighbours didn’t listen to metal all the time, I might be less stressed. But they do, so I won’t.
    If you understood me, you wouldn’t be making that face. But you don’t and you will.

    1. Nice work Monika.

      But be careful about the second clause. Remember that “would” isn’t referring to the future, but either a general time or the present.

      So in the first example “If I could fly, I would catch drones.” You should say “But I can’t, so I don’t.”

      This is the same for your other answers, too.

      The last example was quite tricky because it was in the continuous:

      “… you wouldn’t be making that face.”

      Here you should’ve written “But you don’t, so you are.” (from “you are making that face.”)

      Does that make sense?

      Nonetheless, this was excellent work. It’s not so easy to get the feeling of the auxiliaries immediately and you’ve actually done that with these smooth answers. Well done! 🙂

  3. I was wondering if the 2nd should be “but I didn’t so I’m not.” Please correct me. The series has been very helpful. Thanks!

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