Conditionals: zero, first and second

Conditionals: zero, first and second

Do you know how to use the zero, first and second conditionals? Test what you know with interactive exercises and read the explanation to help you.

Look at these examples to see how zero, first and second conditionals are used.

If you freeze water, it becomes solid.
If it rains tomorrow, I'll take the car.
If I lived closer to the cinema, I would go more often.

Try this exercise to test your grammar.

Grammar test 1

Conditionals 1: Grammar test 1

Read the explanation to learn more.

Grammar explanation

Conditionals describe the result of a certain condition. The if clause tells you the condition (If you study hard) and the main clause tells you the result (you will pass your exams). The order of the clauses does not change the meaning.

If you study hard, you will pass your exams.
You will pass your exams if you study hard.

Conditional sentences are often divided into different types.

Zero conditional

We use the zero conditional to talk about things that are generally true, especially for laws and rules.

If I drink too much coffee, I can't sleep at night.
Ice melts if you heat it.
When the sun goes down, it gets dark.

The structure is: if/when + present simple >> present simple.

First conditional

We use the first conditional when we talk about future situations we believe are real or possible.

If it doesn't rain tomorrow, we'll go to the beach.
Arsenal will be top of the league if they win.
When I finish work, I'll call you.

In first conditional sentences, the structure is usually: if/when + present simple >> will + infinitive. 

It is also common to use this structure with unless, as long as, as soon as or in case instead of if.

I'll leave as soon as the babysitter arrives.
I don't want to stay in London unless I get a well-paid job.
I'll give you a key in case I'm not at home.
You can go to the party, as long as you're back by midnight.

Second conditional

The second conditional is used to imagine present or future situations that are impossible or unlikely in reality.

If we had a garden, we could have a cat.
If I won a lot of money, I'd buy a big house in the country.
I wouldn't worry if I were you.

The structure is usually: if + past simple >> + would + infinitive. 

When if is followed by the verb be, it is grammatically correct to say if I were, if he were, if she were and if it were. However, it is also common to hear these structures with was, especially in the he/she form.

If I were you, I wouldn't mention it.
If she was prime minister, she would invest more money in schools.
He would travel more if he was younger.

Do this exercise to test your grammar again.

Grammar test 2

Conditionals 1: Grammar test 2

Language level

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Submitted by Bharati on Sun, 23/02/2020 - 09:22

Hello, Isn't it a matter of individual perception to understand the use of "will" in a sentence to be conveying either a present tiime or future time when no specific future time is given. Example: He will always/never be grateful (Here the time could be cosidered to be starting from present continuinh upto future) Thanks

Submitted by Bharati on Sat, 22/02/2020 - 13:24

Thanks Peter My doubt about the example sentence given by me remains as you assume that if it rains depicts future whereas it (rain) can be assumed to happen in present time also. Even the result clause (i will use an umbrella) can happen in present besides the future possibility of rain. Please clarify. I have no doubt about zero conditional example given by you. Thanks

Hello Bharati,

In your example, the speaker has not taken the umbrella at the time of speaking. Therefore, the action must be in the future, relative to the time of speaking.



The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Peter, Thanks for explaining. So, do we take that first conditional always talks about future and not about present also as understood by me. In the example, "if you drop the glass, it will break"what times are referred by the if clause and the consequence clause. Thanks

Hello Bharati,

Generally, the result clause of a first conditional structure has a future time reference. However, you can also use will to describe typical behaviour or consequences, especially when you want to point out to someone that they should have known something, or should not have been surprised about something. For example:

I can't believe my car has broken down again!

Well, if you don't service cars they will break down. What do you expect?

Here, the speaker is talking about the typical behaviour of cars, not a specific single action in the future.


Your sentence about the glass could, in the right context be read either way. I don't think your earlier example about umbrellas could, however, as the speaker then was referring to him/herself and a particular situation rather than predicting his/her own typical behaviour.



The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks Peter, What time(present/future) does the following if clause and the result clause refer:- If you move, i will hit you If you pay me, i will work longer

Hello Bharati

The 'if' clauses refer to hypothetical future actions -- i.e. they may happen or they may not -- and the result clauses speak about actions after those hypothetical future actions.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Bharati on Sat, 22/02/2020 - 04:11

Modals plus present perfect are generally used for past time. But based on context, it can represent present time also. For example -Where is John? He must have gone out. This answer is similar to present perfect meaning "He has gone out" which has relation with present timeline as per definition of present perfect

Hello Bharati,

Perfect modal verbs describe past actions, though they may have a present relevance.

The present perfect in your example describes a past action (going out) which has a present relevance (he is not here now).

The perfect modal has a similar function. If we say He must have gone out then we are describing a past action (going out) with a present result (he is not here).


In terms of terminology, the modal is not followed by the present perfect, but by a perfect infinitive. Modals can be followed by various forms of the infinitive:

He must tell us. [infinitive]

He must be told. [passive infinitive]

He must have told us. [perfect infinitive]

He must be working. [continuous infinitive]




The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Bharati on Sat, 22/02/2020 - 04:06

First conditional sentences are said to be talking about future whereas some explain that it can be about present or future which appears more logical to me Example-If it rains, i will use an umbrella. Here besides future possibility of rain to happen, it can also be understood as if it rains in the present moment, i will use an umbrella in the present time. So it can represent present time also