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

Average: 4.1 (298 votes)

Hello khalid ibrahim,

As you say, we generally use a modal verb in the main clause of real/likely future conditional sentences. Typically, this is will:

If I see Susan, I'll invite her to the party.

However, other modal verbs than will can be used:

If you see Susan, you should invite her to the party.

If he sees Susan, he can invite her to the party.

Your second sentence is an example of this. You could use a different modal verb in place of can, such as may.


Your first example is a little different. There are some verbs which describe our beliefs about the future which can be used in this way. We use a present form because we are describing our present views on a situation, not the result of a condition. Verbs used commonly in this way include want, expect, hope, fear and believe:

I don't want to stay in London unless I get a well-paid job.

I don't expect to stay in London unless I get a well-paid job.

I don't hope to stay in London unless I get a well-paid job.

I believe him, unless there is proof he's lying.

I fear for the future unless we change our way of living.



The LearnEnglish Team 

Submitted by patph0510 on Fri, 19/06/2020 - 17:18

Hello teacher, I would like to know whether the following sentences convey different meanings: 1. If I eat dairy products, I get red spots on my skin. vs If I eat dairy products, I will get red spots on my skin 2. If the weather is nice, Mary walks to work. vs If the weather is nice, Mary is going to walk to work. Thank you. Pat

Hello patph0510,

The answer to your question is on the page above. Look at the explanations for zero and first conditionals and apply them to your examples. This should answer your question for you.



The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks for your reply. Actually I am still a bit confused as to the difference between the two after reading the explanation above. Could I say that Zero Conditional refers to a general situation while Conditional One refers to a specific situation? For example: 1. If I eat dairy products, I get red spots on my skin. --> this sentence tells us about a general truth about the speaker. 2. If I eat dairy products, I will get red spots on my skin --> this sentence is about a specific situation; the speaker may be telling a waiter about his food allergies before ordering food

Submitted by Ira92 on Thu, 18/06/2020 - 21:35

hi. could you please tell me in the sentence below which type of conditionals has been used and And what did the speaker mean? "if someone told me a week ago that I would be painting I wouldn’t believe."

Hello Ira92,

The sentence is not entirely grammatical. You need to add an object after believe:

If someone told me a week ago that I would be painting I wouldn’t believe it/them.


However, the sentence is still not correct in terms of standard grammar. The form is [if + past simple > (then) would verb], sometimes called a second conditional. This is used to talk about unlikely or impossible (unreal) situations in the present or future. However, this sentence refers to an unreal past as it contains the phrase a week ago. This is inconsistent. To make the sentence consistent you should use a past perfect in the first clause:

If someone had told me a week ago that I would be painting I wouldn’t believe it/them.

The second clause is fine as it describes an unreal present result of that unreal past situation.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Remember on Thu, 28/05/2020 - 11:23

Hi, People get upset if I let them down. People get upset if I'd let them down. Which is correct and why? I'll appreciate your feedback on this one. Thanks and greetings
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Submitted by Kirk Moore on Thu, 28/05/2020 - 15:12

In reply to by Remember


Hello Remember

The first sentence is a correct zero conditional statement; the second is not correct. But you could make a first conditional ('People will get upset if I let them down') or second conditional ('People would get upset if I let them down') by changing the verb forms. 

Note that the past simple of the verb 'let' is 'let', i.e. it doesn't change form in the past simple.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team