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

Average: 4.1 (356 votes)

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

Permalink

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

Permalink

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