Conditionals 1

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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Average: 3 (2 votes)

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.