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 (375 votes)
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

Submitted by Simonedemelis on Sun, 10/05/2020 - 15:47

Why these sentences doesn't follow the usual structure of the first conditional? I don't want to stay in London unless I get a well-paid job. You can go to the party, as long as you're back by midnight. Thanks.

Submitted by Lobna Tarek on Wed, 29/04/2020 - 15:09

So we can use other modal verbs than (will) for the first conditional and other modals than (would) for the second conditionals , right? What about the sentence ( I don't want to stay in London as long as I don't get a well-paid job) ? This is a first conditional sentence and no modals are used. And in the sentence ( you can get a key if I'm not at home ) , is (can) used here instead of ( will ) to express specific ability in the future? Thanks and waiting for your response.

Hello Lobna Tarek,

Not all conditional sentences contain modal verbs. So-called zero conditionals contain normal finite (present) verbs in each clause, for example.


I don't think your first example is a well-formed sentence. We would use either unless or if to form the sentence rather than as long as:

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

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

The result clause here describes a present emotional state rather than a future action. You can contrast it with this:

I won't stay in London unless I get a well-paid job.

I won't stay in London if I don't get a well-paid job.


In your second example can probably describes specific ability in the future, though you could have a context in which it describes a general truth - something which is always possible because of the way the house or flat is organised, rather than being a particular situation on a particular day.



The LearnEnglish Team

Profile picture for user OlaIELTS

Submitted by OlaIELTS on Thu, 23/04/2020 - 15:14

It's very helpful.

Submitted by Mouha++ on Tue, 21/04/2020 - 23:34

Hello Teachers I want to know the difference between the use of first conditional and zero conditional in question sentences. Does it obey to the same rules as affirmative or negative sentence ? For example which of these sentences is correct : What happens if we arrive late at the cinema ? What will happen if we arrive late at the cinema ? Thanks