Conditionals 1

Do you know how to use the zero, first and second conditionals?

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

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Language level

B1 English level (intermediate)

Hello everyday-nato,

The forms here are actually present subjunctive and past subjuntive. These are not the same as present and past tense.

We use the subjunctive to describe things that are not true but that we would like to be true or hope can be true (present subjunctive), and things which are not true and which we acknowledge may not become true (past subjunctive). The names (present and past) are misleading and do not refer to time but to form.

 

The present subjunctive form is the same as the base form of the verb; it does not change in the third person.

The past subjunctive form is the same as the past simple.

 

In your examples, you could use either form. The present subjunctive suggests that the speaker expects the other person to comply; the past subjunctive implicitly acknowledges that they may not, making it a more polite form as it is more tentative.

 

You can read more about the Englishs subjunctive here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_subjunctive#Use_of_the_present_subjunctive

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by xime_honey on Wed, 19/08/2020 - 05:37

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I liked this article because it helped me to remember rules of some conditionals and to review this topic that I did not remember very well.

Submitted by Najmiii3579 on Tue, 18/08/2020 - 11:25

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If the member countries would act in concert, the problem might be solved more easily. This does not fit into any of the categories listed above. How is the sentence above different from "If the member countries act in concert, the problem may be solved more easily."? If further improvements can be made, that would be all to the good. Could I say "that will be all to the good" instead? Thank you teachers

Hi Najmiii3579,

  1. If the member countries would act in concert, ...
  2. If the member countries act in concert, ...

These sentences have slightly different meanings. Sentence 1 has the meaning of 'being willing to act', because it includes would. Sentence 2 is just about the action – whether the countries act or don't act. It doesn't say anything about their willingness.

For your second question, yes! You could use will instead of would. There's a slight difference in how the action is presented. If you use will, it's a real and possible consequence. If you use would, it frames the action (that would be all to the good) as hypothetical or imagined (not a real one).

Does that make sense?

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Sir, Thanks for your reply. Regarding the 2nd sentence, if it is presented as a hypothetical situation using "would", why does the writer use the Type 1 instead of the Type 2 Conditional instead?
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Submitted by Jonathan R on Thu, 20/08/2020 - 14:00

In reply to by Najmiii3579

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Hi Najmiii3579,

Even though conditionals are usually taught as Type 1/2/3 structures, in real life speakers often mix these structures, especially in speaking. Was this sentence taken from real life language usage?

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by AkiraTa05 on Mon, 10/08/2020 - 11:41

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Hi Sir, 1. If he is not at work he will be watching the cricket - Could I say "must be watching" instead? 2. I was told that we can use "will", "may" "can" in the main part of the First Conditionals. Can we use "would", "could" and "might"? Thank you.
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Submitted by Kirk on Mon, 10/08/2020 - 13:30

In reply to by AkiraTa05

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Hello AkiraTa05,

Yes, you could say 'must' instead of 'will' there. 'must' can be used in this way to say we're pretty sure about something.

There are often exceptions to such rules, so I'm afraid I'm not willing to make a statement about a rule here. But in general I can think of situations in which 'might' and 'could' are possible. I can't think of one where 'would' would be correct, but perhaps in some very specific context it would work. 'would' is used quite often in second and mixed conditional structures.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Teacher, I understand that it is hard to lay down a general rule in such a case. Thanks for your detailed reply! Given that the main part of the First Conditional refers to the future, and "may" "might", and "could" can all indicate future possibility (although the degree of certainty conveyed by "might" is lower), could I say that a safer choice will be to use "may" if I am not sure about whether "could" or "might" is appropriate" Thanks.

Hello again AkiraTa05,

I wouldn't say that 'might' expresses less certainty than 'may'; as I understand it, they express the same degree of certainty or uncertainty. 'might' and 'could' are used more often in speech than in writing, though this is not to say that people don't use 'may' when they speak or 'might' when the write.

In most cases, you could safely use any of the three forms to express this idea. By the way, you find detailed explanations of the main uses of these and the other modal verbs in the Modal verbs section of our English grammar.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Mohit Sharma on Sun, 26/07/2020 - 23:32

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I really liked the article. Simple and knowledgable.

Submitted by Momy on Sat, 18/07/2020 - 12:17

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Hello dear peter, I have a question and I will appreciate your help please write the correct sentence. if I stay up late for the exam, there is (or there will be) a strong possibility that I can't get up early in the morning and oversleep (or will oversleep) and miss (or will miss )the exam. As a result, I fail (or I will fail) the exam.

Hello Momy,

I assume you're talking about a particular situation rather than something that is typically true. In that case, we would say there is... will oversleep... will fail.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dastenova Firuza on Sun, 12/07/2020 - 16:21

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I learnt types of conditional sentences at school perfectly and today it helped to do the test without looking at the grammar explanation me .
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Submitted by Karan Narang on Sun, 05/07/2020 - 04:27

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If I didn't learn to conditional sentence I would not know about these.

Submitted by Kim Hui-jeong on Sat, 27/06/2020 - 13:14

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If he was outside our door, he heard our conversation. I think I've heard this kind of conditional sentences many times. Isn't this grammatically wrong, because a modal verb isn't used in the main clause, which should have been used? Maybe it is used in informal spoken English, but actually incorrect?

Hello again Kim Hui-jeong

As I mentioned in response to your other comment below, this sentence speaks about a past situation, not an imaginary (conditional) situation. This means that if he was really outside our door, it was impossible for him not to have heard our conversation.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Kim Hui-jeong on Sat, 27/06/2020 - 11:55

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If you want to achieve your goal, you have to start fulfilling your plan right now. /If he saw her playing games, then he saw her lying in her bed. Aren't these sentences grammatically wrong in the main clauses? Because I think I've heard this kind of sentence a few times. Maybe it is used in informal spoken English, sir?

Hello Kim Hui-jeong

These sentences are grammatically correct. Note that not all sentences with the word 'if' are conditionals. If we are not speaking about imaginary situations, we just use the normal verb tenses, i.e. the present tense to refer to the present, past tenses to refer to the past, etc. That seems to be the case in the second sentence here -- it means that since he saw her playing games, he must have seen her lying in her bed.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team 

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

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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.

 

Peter

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

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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.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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

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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 on Thu, 28/05/2020 - 15:12

In reply to by Remember

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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

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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

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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

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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.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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

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It's very helpful.

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

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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

Hello Mouha++,

Both sentences are grammatically correct. Note that these are examples of subject questions in which the question word (what) is the subject of the verb. You could also make object questions:

What does the usher do if we arrive late at the cinema?

What will the usher do if we arrive late at the cinema?

 

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Deviljin on Sat, 11/04/2020 - 15:27

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Hello Teachers. Which one is correct: 1. If you are going to market, bring me a pen. 2. If you go to market, bring me a pen. If both are correct, what is the difference in meaning. 2nd boubt: My friend told me that, in Ist conditional, we can use any tense in condition/result clause as the requirement. It this correct.

Hello Deviljin

Both of those are grammatically correct. The exact meaning depends on the context, as the continuous aspect (here 'are going' is continuous) can express many different meanings. If you follow the link, you'll see some examples.

Your friend is right in thinking that many different tenses are possible with 'if', but I'm not sure I'd say any tense works anywhere. If you have any other specific sentences you want to ask about, please feel free.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Swati on Fri, 10/04/2020 - 12:27

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Hi, my query is why this answer is wrong? You don't need to print your tickets as long as you'll have the email. I used first conditional structure. Plz help and clarify my doubt why the answer is 'you have the email' not you'll have the email.

Hello Swati,

As long as performs a similar function to if in this structure, and it is followed by a present form, just as in the if-clause of a first conditional. If you want to use a modal verb like will then it should be in the other clause:

You won't need to print your tickets as long as you have the email.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks Peter M sir. I am glad that I got the response and it's cleared my doubt. My English is not so good but is site is very helpful. Thanks

Submitted by Gloria Pérez on Fri, 03/04/2020 - 22:39

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Thank you very much Kirk. It helps me a lot ;-)!

Submitted by Lal on Fri, 03/04/2020 - 06:47

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Hello Sir Are these sentences grammatically correct? When I have finished work, I will call you. When I finish work I will call you. Thank you. Regards Lal

Hello Lal

Yes, both are correct (well done!) and they mean the same thing.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Submitted by adawi on Thu, 02/04/2020 - 11:05

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Hello, I have a question regarding the second conditional. I wonder whether it is grammatically OK to say I was instead of I were? Thanks.
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Submitted by Kirk on Thu, 02/04/2020 - 14:01

In reply to by adawi

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Hello adawl

Yes, that is correct. You can say 'were' with any pronoun and 'was' with 'I', 'he', 'she' or 'it'. 

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Gloria Pérez on Mon, 30/03/2020 - 13:28

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A new doubt. This time about the first conditional: We have studied different ways of expressing future apart from using "will": present continuous, to be going to, may, might... Of course, these forms involve different nuances from "will" in terms of likehood (ranging from 100% certainty to remote posibility). With this in mind, how likely it is that the result happens if the condition occurs, can we use these other forms of future in the first conditional too?? Examples: "If I get some days off next week... - ... I am visiting my grandma" (or "I will definitively visit my grandma") ? - ... I am going to visit my grandma (or "I will most likely visit my grandma")? - ... I may visit my grandma (or "maybe I will visit my grandma")? Thank you very much again for your help to clear this.

Hello again Gloria

Yes, you can use other ways of speaking about the future or possible actions in the second clause -- your clauses with 'will definitely', 'will most likely', 'maybe I will', 'I am going to visit' and 'I may visit' are all correct.

It would perhaps be a little unusual to use the present simple for a timetabled event or the present continuous for an arranged event (since presumably we don't make arrangements for events we aren't sure we can perform), but it is certainly possible to use them if they accurately reflect what you mean.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Gloria Pérez on Mon, 30/03/2020 - 12:56

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A doubt about conditional zero: I see that the structure if/when past simple >> past simple can not be used. Therefore, the following sentences must be wrong: "When I was a child... - ... my father used to tell me off when/if I got late home" or - ... I had to study in summer if/when I didn't pass my exams in June". If so, is they are wrong, would the right ones be as following?: "When I was a child... - "... my father used to tell me off If/when I had got home late" - "... I had to study in summer if/when I hadn't passed my exams in June" Thank you very much in advance for heping me to clarify this point.

Hello Gloria

For the sake of simplicity, just one zero conditional structure is provided on this page. But, as you have discovered, that doesn't mean that other combinations do not exist. As you have done, it is perfectly correct to use past tense to speak about past situations. The past perfect versions you wrote are also correct, though most of the time people would use the simpler versions.

Textbooks and teachers often use the terms 'zero', 'first', 'second' and 'third' conditional to refer to common patterns to help students recognise and produce them, but they are not really proper grammatical categories and do not describe all possible forms.

I hope this helps you.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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

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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