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 Selet on Sun, 05/12/2021 - 00:25


I still don't really understand what the meaning of "unlikely" in a second conditional is. For instance:

If Manchester United won today, they would go top of the league.

People explain this sentence suggests that the speaker thinks it unlikely.

Could you tell me what "unlikely" is?

Hello Selet,

'Unlikely' describes how the speaker sees the situation. For example, both of these sentences are possible:

1. If Manchester United win today, they will go top of the league.
2. If Manchester United won today, they would go top of the league.

In sentence 1, the speaker believes that there is a real chance of Manchester United winning. This is the sort of thing an optimistic fan might say.

In sentence 2, the speaker does not believe that Manchester United will win. They are imagining the alternative but they think it is unlikely to happen.

The key is to remember that we are talking about the speaker's perspective, not an objective fact. For example, objectively there is little chance of anyone winning the lottery, so the logical way to talk about it is like this:
> If I won the lottery, I would buy a new house.

However, people are not always logical! If someone is a crazy optimist who believes that they are going to win then they might say this:
> If I win the lottery, I'll buy a new house.

They could even make it more certain by using 'when':
> When I win the lottery, I'll buy a new house.

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks, Peter. This sentence is writen before the match, so when I'm sure that Man Utd will not win the game, we would say "if Man Utd won today, they would go top of the league". Am I right?

Submitted by Crokong on Sat, 06/11/2021 - 07:28


What is the difference between the following sentence?

46' The game is back underway at Old Trafford!
It would be a surprise if the game stayed at 2-1, with both sides desperate for the three points.

46' The game is back underway at Old Trafford!
It will be a surprise if the game stays at 2-1, with both sides desperate for the three points.

Hello Crokong,

There's no significant difference in meaning here. The first one talks about the possibility of the game staying at 2-1 as more hypothetical, but in both cases the announcer thinks it likely that another goal will be scored.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, Kirk. I'm confused what I should express in a particular situation if there is no difference of meaning in the above sentences, This game is going on, so what should I use a past + will or a past + would?

It will be staggering if this game remains goalless.
It would be staggering if this game finished goalless.

My book says the form with a past + would expresses doubt. So, my opinion is that it may depend on how the commentator sees the situation. If both teams are playing safe and don't make a lot of attacks, obviously there will not be a goal scored, then the structure of "would + past" is appropriate, perhaps.

While the form with a will + present conveys certatinty. The commentor watching is sure that both teams are not playing seriously and both want the game to end in a stalemate.

Is my understanding right?

Hello Crokong,

I'm sorry -- this is something that's really difficult to explain. I appreciate that you are trying your best to understand this by really focusing on the details, and so I'll try to explain it again, but I would really recommend you read and listen and try to figure out how these forms work by seeing them in context. That's what you're doing here, which is great; I think the more you read and listen and find forms such as these in context, the more you'll understand them.

The point is that you can use either sentence to talk about the same match. Using a past form and 'would' suggests you see it with more distance -- it's more hypothetical -- but in both cases the match is going on in front of you, so in that sense there's no difference in meaning.

Although some explain this sort of grammar in terms of certainty or uncertainty, I don't think that's a good way to approach it because it can make it easier to forget that it's all about how the speaker sees the situation and positions him- or herself in relation to it.

I hope this helps!

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by bloody_kary on Tue, 12/10/2021 - 05:43


Could you tell me please which verb I should use in this sentence in the subordinate clause: was/were?
It there were/was much snow, we'd go skiing.