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 (372 votes)

Submitted by Liam_Kurt on Sat, 03/09/2022 - 14:24

Permalink

Hello learn english team
I have a question
I noticed there were 3 main conditionals: present real, present imaginary and past imaginary.
Is there a past real conditionals. For example: If he had enough money he bought the car
It is not imaginary since we don't know if he did have enough money but there's also a real chance he did and bought the car

Hello Liam_Kurt,

I'm not familiar with those names for the different combinations of forms that teachers often call 'first conditional' (and so on), but, following the logic of the other names, what you say makes sense, and that sentence is grammatically correct and means what you said.

'if' can be used not only in these structures with these verb forms; it can also be used with any other verb form that communicates an idea that makes sense. That's probably why you've never seen this particular one described in a special way anywhere.

Hope that makes sense.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Robertas on Wed, 31/08/2022 - 05:41

Permalink

Hi,
Are these conditionals (zero,first and second) the only in english language? I mean what about other uses in other tenses like past perfect continues and others?
Regards,
Robertas

Hi Robertas,

There are other conditional structures too. The third conditional has an if-clause with the past perfect (simple or continuous), and it expresses an unreal past situation (i.e., something that did not actually happen in the past). For example: I would have got some food for you if I'd known you were hungry. (If I say this, it means I didn't know that you were hungry, and I didn't get any food for you.)

Since a condition and result don't necessarily occur in the same timeframe, we can make structures that mix the different conditional structures, e.g. If I hadn't got the job in Tokyo (last year), I wouldn't be with my current partner (now). These are called mixed conditionals.

You can read more explanation and examples of these on our Conditionals 2 page. I hope it helps!

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Robertas on Mon, 22/08/2022 - 04:24

Permalink

Hi everyone,
Can someone explain why in these examples regarding first conditional there isn't "will+infinitive":
"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?"

Is there mistake?
Thank you in advance.
Regards,
Robertas

Hi Robertas,

The first conditional structure usually has "will" or "won't" in the main clause, but not always. Other structures and words may be used if they give the idea of a future action, just like "want to stay" in the first example. "You can go to the party" also gives permission for a future action.

We can also use "may" and "might" if the future action is possible but not yet certain (e.g. "I might stay in London if I get a well-paid job").

I hope that helps to understand it.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi again,

I am little bit confused. Don't you think it is confusing sometimes to use present tense when you talk about future? In my opinion, we perfectly could use future tense which would clear all confusions. I understand "as soon as" indicates future, but changing to "arrives" to "will arrive" as well could be more correct use which would clear all confusions. These examples gives idea about what I am asking:
" I'll leave as soon as the babysitter arrives. "
" I don't want to stay in London unless I get a well-paid job "

Hello Robertas,

I can't say that it is confusing as a native speaker - it feels perfectly natural to me! Language develops organically through use in a community and it's not the case that linguistic rules or standards are handed down by some authority, so the way the language works is a reflection of what suits its users.

 

I think part of the problem is that you see 'will' as future tense. English has no future tense, linguistically speaking. Instead of a particular verb form, we use a range of different devices. Sometimes we use a present form, sometimes we use a past form, sometimes we use a lexical construction and sometimes we use a modal verb like 'will'. In many sentences you can replace 'will' with other modals:

I'll leave as soon as the babysitter arrives.

I might leave as soon as the babysitter arrives.

I should leave as soon as the babysitter arrives.

I must leave as soon as the babysitter arrives.

(etc)

 

Verb forms in English are not always about time. The second form (past simple in traditional terminology) is really about distance, which may be distance in terms of time (past time is distant from the present) but may also be distant in terms of reality (hypothetical meaning is distant from reality), social distance (politeness is a form of social distancing) and so on. In this analysis, the first form shows closeness, the second form distance, the -ing form shows that something is in progress in some way and the third form is retrospective (looking backwards). When you view the English verb system in this way (which is the generally accepted approach amongst modern linguists) exceptions like the use of the past simple for future meaning cease to be exceptions and become simply another expression of the core concept of distance.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Robertas on Sat, 20/08/2022 - 17:53

Permalink

Hi everyone. Can someone help with future's conditional? I mean I would like to ask about both clauses that are hypothetical. I picked example from Conditional 2. I would write it like this to speak about future: "If she would be prime minister, she would invest more money in schools". Am I correct here?

Hi Robertas,

The correct form here is 'If she were...'

Generally, we do not use modal verbs in the if-clause of hypothetical constructions to express unreality. Rather, we move the time reference backwards, so we use a past form ('If she were...') to talk about the present or future, and a past perfect form ('If she had been...') to talk about the past.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team