What are conditionals in English grammar? Sometimes we call them ‘if clauses’. They describe the result of something that might happen (in the present or future) or might have happened but didn’t (in the past) . They are made using different English verb tenses.
There are four kinds:
- The Zero Conditional:
(if + present simple, … present simple)
If you heat water to 100 degrees, it boils.
We can make a zero conditional sentence with two present simple verbs (one in the ‘if clause’ and one in the ‘main clause’):
- If + present simple, …. present simple.
This conditional is used when the result will always happen. So, if water reaches 100 degrees, it always boils. It’s a fact. I’m talking in general, not about one particular situation. The result of the ‘if clause’ is always the main clause.
The ‘if’ in this conditional can usually be replaced by ‘when’ without changing the meaning.
For example: If water reaches 100 degrees, it boils. (It is always true, there can’t be a different result sometimes). If I eat peanuts, I am sick. (This is true only for me, maybe, not for everyone, but it’s still true that I’m sick every time I eat peanuts)
Here are some more examples:
See this page about the first conditional to learn about the difference between the first and the zero conditionals. The first conditional is about a specific situation, but the zero is talking in general.
- The First Conditional:
(if + present simple, … will + infinitive)
If it rains tomorrow, we’ll go to the cinema.
- if + present simple, … will + infinitive
It’s used to talk about things which might happen in the future. Of course, we can’t know what will happen in the future, but this describes possible things, which could easily come true.
- If it rains, I won’t go to the park.
- If I study today, I‘ll go to the party tonight.
- If I have enough money, I‘ll buy some new shoes.
- She‘ll be late if the train is delayed.
- She‘ll miss the bus if she doesn’t leave soon.
- If I see her, I‘ll tell her.
First vs. Zero Conditional:
The first conditional describes a particular situation, whereas the zero conditional describes what happens in general.
For example (zero conditional): if you sit in the sun, you get burned (here I’m talking about every time a person sits in the sun – the burning is a natural consequence of the sitting)
But (first conditional): if you sit in the sun, you’ll get burned (here I’m talking about what will happen today, another day might be different)
First vs. Second Conditional:
The first conditional describes things that I think are likely to happen in the future, whereas the second conditional talks about things that I don’t think will really happen. It’s subjective; it depends on my point of view.
For example (first conditional): If she studies harder, she’ll pass the exam (I think it’s possible she will study harder and so she’ll pass)
But (second conditional): If she studied harder, she would pass the exam (I think that she won’t study harder, or it’s very unlikely, and so she won’t pass)
- The Second Conditional:
(if + past simple, … would + infinitive)
If I had a lot of money, I would travel around the world.
The second conditional uses the past simple after if, then ‘would’ and the infinitive:
- if + past simple, …would + infinitive
(We can use ‘were’ instead of ‘was’ with ‘I’ and ‘he/she/it’. This is mostly done in formal writing).
It has two uses.
First, we can use it to talk about things in the future that are probably not going to be true. Maybe I’m imagining some dream for example.
- If I won the lottery, I would buy a big house.(I probably won’t win the lottery)
- If I met the Queen of England, I would say hello.
- She would travel all over the world if she were rich.
- She would pass the exam if she ever studied.(She never studies, so this won’t happen)
Second, we can use it to talk about something in the present which is impossible, because it’s not true. Is that clear? Have a look at the examples:
- If I had his number, I would call him. (I don’t have his number now, so it’s impossible for me to call him).
- If I were you, I wouldn’t go out with that man.
How is this different from the first conditional?
This kind of conditional sentence is different from the first conditional because this is a lot more unlikely.
For example (second conditional): If I had enough money I would buy a house with twenty bedrooms and a swimming pool (I’m probably not going to have this much money, it’s just a dream, not very real)
But (first conditional): If I have enough money, I’ll buy some new shoes (It’s much more likely that I’ll have enough money to buy some shoes)
- The Third Conditional
(if + past perfect, … would + have + past participle)
If I had gone to bed early, I would have caught the train.
- if + past perfect, …would + have + past participle
It talks about the past. It’s used to describe a situation that didn’t happen, and to imagine the result of this situation.
- If she had studied, she would have passed the exam (but, really we know she didn’t study and so she didn’t pass)
- If I hadn’t eaten so much, I wouldn’t have felt sick (but I did eat a lot, and so I did feel sick).
- If we had taken a taxi, we wouldn’t have missed the plane
- She wouldn’t have been tired if she had gone to bed earlier
- She would have become a teacher if she had gone to university
- He would have been on time for the interview if he had left the house at nine
(Notice we can put ‘if’ at the beginning, or in the middle. It doesn’t matter at all.)
Finish the sentences with a clause in the correct conditional:
1: If it is sunny tomorrow _______________________________________________
2: If you sit in the sun too long __________________________________________
3: If I were you ______________________________________________________
4: If I were the Prime Minister ___________________________________________
5: If she had studied harder _____________________________________________
6: If I won the lottery _________________________________________________
7: If I hadn’t gone to bed so late _________________________________________
8: If I hadn’t come to London ___________________________________________
9: If you mix water and electricity ________________________________________
10: If she hadn’t stayed at home __________________________________________
11: If I go out tonight__________________________________________________
12: If I were on holiday today ____________________________________________
13: If I had listened to my mother _________________________________________
14: If I hadn’t eaten so much _____________________________________________
15: If it rains later ____________________________________________________
16: If I were British ___________________________________________________
17: If I were the opposite sex ____________________________________________
18: If I have enough money _____________________________________________
19: If you don’t wear a coat in the winter ___________________________________
20: If I weren’t studying English __________________________________________
Put in the correct verb forms.
- If you were older, you (to go) to the party.
- If Brian (to like) horses, he could ride well.
- If Alice (to have) more money, she would go to Africa.
Which type of the Conditional sentences is used?
- If you had done your homework, you could have written a better test.
- If I find your key, I’ll tell you.
- What would you do if you saw a robber?
Which answers are correct?
- Which words/phrases can be used in an if-clause type II?
- Which words/phrases can be used in an if-clause type I?
- Which words/phrases can be used in an if-clause type III?
Complete the sentences.
- type II: They (to fly) to Canberra if they (to have) more money.
- type I: If I (to study), I (to pass) the test.
- type III: If the sun (to shine), we (to go) swimming.