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)

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?