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 TiaS on Sun, 23/08/2020 - 08:00

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Hi sir, "If we had a garden, we could have a cat." Can we write this sentence as "if we were to have a garden, we could have a cat."
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Submitted by Joanna Gore on Sun, 23/08/2020 - 10:26

In reply to by TiaS

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Hello TiaS Yes, that's fine. You can use 'were to' like this to emphasise the improbability of the condition. Best wishes Jo The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Naureen on Sat, 22/08/2020 - 06:46

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Hi, Please help is it correct use of 1st conditional when I am talking in reference to future---- "If there is any work pending, I will work overtime to complete all my backlog upon my return." ----
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Submitted by Peter M. on Sat, 22/08/2020 - 09:06

In reply to by Naureen

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Hi Naureen,

That sentence looks fine to me. Well done!

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by everyday-nato on Thu, 20/08/2020 - 07:20

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Hello teacher, I found this lesson very helpful. Thank you. I often hear people say "I'd appreciate if you could +verb(present tense)". Personally, I wonder if I can also say "I'd appreciate if you +verb(past tense)." If it's possible, I guess the nuance of the two sentences is different. So, Could you explain to me about it?

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?