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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Submitted by Fer-Recinos on Thu, 19/05/2022 - 12:45

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Hi! I'm studying the zero conditional and I have seen this example: People shop more online when they're working from home.
Could someone tell me if this sentence is correct and why?
The example is from: Self-study online course > LearnEnglish Lessons B2 Upper intermediate > Module 4 > The humans behind online shopping.

Thanks.

Hi Fer-Recinos,

Yes, it is correct! The zero conditional typically uses the present simple in both clauses, but present continuous is possible in the 'if/when' clause, with the usual meaning of an ongoing or a temporary action. 

I hope that helps to clarify it.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, "present continuous is possible in the 'if/when' clause"

What about:
If/when present simple + continuous
When you walk home, make sure she is not following you
When you watch TV, make sure you aren't turning the sound up too much
When Windy writes an essay, she is not using an extension
Is it okay? Or it needs to be done
If/when continuous + simple

Hi lRaisa,

Simple and continuous forms are possible in either clause:

When you walk home, make sure she does't follow you.

When you walk home, make sure she isn't following you.

When you are walking home, make sure she doesn't follow you.

When you are walking home, make sure she isn't following you.

The continuous form in the if-clause has the meaning 'during the activity' or 'at some point while you...'

The continuous form in the result clause describes an action in progress rather than a complete single act or choice.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Solosolix on Sat, 14/05/2022 - 01:38

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Hello team,
I would like to know in which conditional can a sentence like this one be and the reasons why?
Lanisha didn't have money.Lanisha didn't prepare food for her children.(Rewrite the sentence begining: If...............)

Hi Solosolix,

You could say something like this: If Lanisha had money, she would prepare food for her children. This is a second conditional, showing an unreal present or future situation.

I hope that helps :)

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Then what about " Lanisha doesn't have money. Lanisha does not prepare food for her children". Then which conditional is this question?

Hi Solosolix,

If you want to make a conditional sentence about Lanisha's present or future, then it would be the same one that I suggested.

If on the other hand, you want to make a conditional sentence about Lanisha's past, that needs a third conditional structure: If Lanisha had had money, she would have prepared food. You can read more about third conditionals on our Conditionals 2 page.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

I think the right answer would be-- If Lanisha had had money, she would have prepared food for the children. It's because the given sentence about Lanisha actually happens in the past. Lanisha didn't have money and She didn't prepare food for the children. This situation about Lanisha might be over now and she's no more in this condition and now someone having knowledge about Lanisha looks back on the past and says this in third conditional.
If Lanisha's situation were present like Lanisha doesn't have money and She does not prepare food for the children, the answer would be the one you have a written above.

With regards
Sandeep

Submitted by Shrey on Mon, 25/04/2022 - 20:04

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Hello,
Would it be If I knew what he wanted, I would not have permitted this or If I knew what he wanted I would not permit this.
Regards
Shrey

Hello Shrey,

The second sentence is correct. The first sentence is not logical as it would put the result (would not have permitted) before the condition (if I knew).

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by amynghiem on Tue, 18/01/2022 - 05:18

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Dear team,
Please let me know if I use the right conditional here:
The soil doesn't dry out if you water the plants regularly

-> In my understanding since the action of "watering plants so it doesn't dry out" is an obvious fact so I use zero conditional but I'm reluctant between zero conditional and first conditional here

Please help me out
Thank you

Hello amynghiem,

If you want to say something that is true in many different situations, the zero conditional would be best: 'The soil doesn't dry out if you water plants regularly'.

If you want to speak about a specific situation -- for example when you are giving instructions to someone who is going to take care of your plants while you are away -- then a first conditional is generally better: 'The soil won't dry out if you water the plants regularly'.

Hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Kirk,
Thank you for your answer
For me, I find it's difficult to decide which conditionals should be use in certain situation. For example:
- If he cleaned his house more often, his friends would have visited him more often -> This sentence I'm using mixed conditional Present/Past to express a present situation result a past consequence
but I could also use
- If he cleaned his house more often, his friends would visit him more often -> I'm using Second Conditional to imagine a future situations that are impossible at the moment of speaking.

I know this might be a broad question but Do you have any advice to help english learners choose the right conditional when they speak ?

Thank you

Hello amynghiem,

I have two suggestions. The first one is for when you're using English to communicate in an authentic situation and the second one is more for the English classroom or exams.

1) In real life, the conditional we use expresses our perspective. Imagine that our colleague Charlie is very messy and no one wants to visit his house. We've known him for several years and know that he wishes his friends would visit him more often. In this case, we're thinking about his present situation, as well as his future, and so your second sentence would make the most sense because we view any change to his situation as unlikely.

Now imagine the same situation with one difference: Charlie has made a resolution to keep his house clean. And in fact we and a couple of his friends even helped him clean it one weekend and now all he has to do is maintain it. If we spoke about his situation now, a first conditional would be more appropriate because the situation is different. We see it as much more likely that his friends visit: 'If he keeps his house clean, his friends will visit'. All of what I've explained so far has to do with using conditionals in a real situation; as you can see, the whole situations informs our choice of a conditional.

2) In English class or on exams, a well-written question should make the context clear enough. Normally what you have to pay most attention to are the other verb forms used in a sentence in order to, for example, fill in a gap or complete a sentence.

If you're expected to complete a sentence where the context isn't clear, then I'd suggest asking the teacher. It's more difficult than people realise to write good questions and all teachers make mistakes from time to time.

Does that help you any?

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Kirk,
I would like to ask if the question posted in the query is correct, be it an academic or authentic situation.
" If he cleaned his house more often, his friends would have visited him more often". It looks like a mix of 2nd and 3rd conditional. Is this allowed .

Hi MeenakshiVimal,

Yes, it is. The 'if' clause refers not just to the past time of the friends visiting (or not visiting, in this case), but extends to the present as well - i.e., it's about his general habit of cleaning. This is called a mixed conditional and you can read more about it on our Conditionals 2 page: https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/grammar/intermediate-to-upper-intermediate/conditionals-2

I hope it helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you for replying, Jonathan. I did read about it and was able to understand the relation between time and conditions better. Makes a lot of things clear. Tq ☺

Dear Mr. Kirk , How are you today ? Could you please let me know how to post over here ? I have successfully made the required registration but I can't locate where to initiate a post ? Thanks

Hi ThePharmacist,

If you go right to the bottom of the page, past all the comments, you'll see a box called 'Add new comment'. I hope that's what you're looking for :)

Thank you for registering and we hope you enjoy using the site.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

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

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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.

Peter
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

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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,
Kirk
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,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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

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Hello!
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.

Hello bloody_kary,

Both forms are possible here in modern English. In the past, 'were' (a subjunctive form) was preferred, but this is not the case in modern English and you can use either form.

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello bloody_kary,

Yes, both are correct in modern English.

I think the sentence could be improved in another way, however. We generally avoid using 'much' in affirmative sentences. Another quantifier such as 'a lot of', 'lots', 'plenty of', 'a good deal of' etc would be a better (more natural) choice here.

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by GiulianaAndy on Thu, 15/07/2021 - 00:28

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Hello, awesome lesson. However I have a question, here you go: In the grammar test 1 is it possible to write down a comma before the if clause I got confused because of these sentences: 1) I would study English Every Day if I had time (There's no comma before the if clause) 2) We'll be late for the film, if we don't hurry up (There's a comma before the if clause) And also, I would like to know this: Is there always a comma before the clause in the sentence witch is not the "if" one?

Hello GiulianaAndy,

Thanks for your feedback!

The general rules are to 1) put a comma after the 'if' clause when the 'if' clause comes first, and 2) not put a comma before the 'if' clause when the 'if' clause comes second. These two sentences, for example, show the normal punctuation:

If it rains tomorrow, I'll take the car.
I'll take the car if it rains tomorrow.

There can be exceptions to this rule and you did a good job noticing the comma in question 3 in the first task. Sometimes we use a comma here to indicate a slight pause in the sentence, but most of the time it's best not to write it.

Since it's more common for the comma not to be there, I've removed it from the sentence 3 in Task 1. I'm sorry if it caused you any confusion!

Thanks for again for your feedback!

Best wishes,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Submitted by Natasa Tanasa on Tue, 22/06/2021 - 12:58

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Hello everyone, I would like to know if the next sentence is the correct one: "How will you get there if your flight is cancelled?" Thank you so much in advance!

Hi Natasa Tanasa,

Yes! It's correct :)

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by beckysyto on Sun, 20/06/2021 - 09:52

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Hi Which of the following sentences are correct? (1) I could go into a chocolate factory and eat a lot of chocolate if no one WAS able to see me. (2) I could go into a chocolate factory and eat a lot of chocolate if no one WERE able to see me. If subjunctive verbs are used, should indefinite pronouns go with "was" or "were"? Why? Thanks a lot.
Profile picture for user Kirk

Submitted by Kirk on Sun, 20/06/2021 - 14:57

In reply to by beckysyto

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Hello beckysyto,

Both of the sentences are correct. We use singular verb forms with 'no one', but 'were' is still correct here for a different reason.

In older English, the only correct verb form here was a past subjunctive, and the past subjunctive of 'be' is 'were'. We still use this old form in a few structures (such as the second conditional), and that is why 'were' is also considered correct here.

As I'm sure you've noticed, 'was' is also accepted as correct -- it acts as a kind of modern subjunctive in a way.

Does that make sense?

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

 

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Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Wed, 09/06/2021 - 11:47

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Hello. Is the following sentence correct? If not, why. Fast food is great unless you eat too much of it. Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

Yes, that sentence is fine. You could also say '...as long as you don't eat too much...' with the same meaning.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by lean on Sat, 22/05/2021 - 10:33

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Hello :-) I saw you use (have to use) present simple too in main clause, if you use "unless", "as long as", "as soon as" or "in case" instead of if for the first conditional. If I were you, I'd correct the common rule for the first conditional (if/when + present simple >> will + infinitive. ) :-))))))))))))))))))))) Best regards
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Submitted by Kirk on Sat, 22/05/2021 - 14:34

In reply to by lean

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Hello lean,

Thanks for your suggestion. We actually considered that, but decided to try to keep the page simple and so did not include that information. 

Thanks again!

Best wishes,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ayn on Mon, 15/03/2021 - 06:12

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A)Unless people stick to their diets, they will face obesity problems more than ever. B)Unless people stick to their diets, they face obesity problems more than ever. Which looks correct?

Hello Ayn,

I would recommend that you not use 'unless' here. 'unless' means something like 'if ... not', but only when it expresses an idea like 'except if'. If we reword the sentence as 'Except if people stick to their diets ...', it seems awkward.

In comparison, 'If people do not stick to their diets' seems more straightforward to me, and in this case you could say 'they face' to refer to a generally-known fact or 'they will face' to make a prediction.

I'd recommend you have a look at this Cambridge Grammar page on Unless, which has lots of useful example sentences.

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Since I'm predicting they will face obesity more than ever, should I use first conditional?