# 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

## 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

Submitted by Muhammad97 on Sun, 23/10/2022 - 08:15

Hello!
please I want understand the rule this sentence followed from the test 2:

"The project will be delayed if I don't finish this report on time."

In the sentence with the gap ('The project __ delayed if I don't finish this report on time'), the verb in the 'if'-clause ('don't finish') is in the present simple tense. If the verb were in a past form, it would be a second conditional, but that is not the case here.

Therefore the sentence must be a zero or first conditional. It doesn't really make sense for it to be a zero conditional, because it's not really speaking about a general rule or something that is always true.

A first conditional form (with 'will' + verb) makes quite a lot of sense, since it suggests finishing the report on time is important.

Does that make sense?

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Plokonyo on Wed, 12/10/2022 - 01:24

On this page explains "The second conditional is used to imagine present or future situations that are impossible or unlikely in reality."

What is the difference between "unlikely" and "impossible" as explanative above? And could you give an example sentence that talks about an unlikely situation and an impossible situation so that it's clear?

Hi Plokonyo,

Sure, here are some examples.

• If I won a lot of money, I'd buy a big house in the country. (An unlikely situation - winning money, e.g. in a lottery, has only a very small chance of happening. It may also be an impossible situation if you don't even buy a lottery ticket, for example.)
• I wouldn't worry if I were you. (An impossible situation - I cannot be you. It has zero chance of happening).

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks Jonathan. Do the following second conditional sentences show an unlikely situation?

It would be nice if you helpe me a bit with the homework.
Would it be all right if I came around seven tomorrow.
If you were to move your chair a bit, we could all sit down.

Hello Plokonyo,

Although these sentences use a verb pattern that teachers call 'second conditional', the three sentences you ask about are requests. The speaker is essentially asking the listener to do something.

But rather than directly asking the listener to do something with an imperative form ('Help me with my homework', 'Give me permission to come at seven', 'Move your chair'), the speaker describes a condition ('you help me', 'I come at seven', 'you move your chair'); the speakers uses a past verb form to make it hypothetical/imaginary and so less direct (which is considered more polite). Then they describe the imaginary result ('it would be nice', etc.), which is what they want.

Does that make sense?

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Plokonyo on Mon, 19/09/2022 - 04:43

I'm confused by a type first conditional form. We use the first conditional to talk about the result of an imagined future situation, when we believe the imagined situation is quite likely. But the problem is that we can't know what might happen in the future. For example, if I say "If it doesn't rain tomorrow, we'll go to the beach". As explained above, the imagined situation is quite likely/more possible. But what if it rains tomorrow, will we go to the beach?

"If I see her, I will tell you". As explained above, the imagined situation is quite likely/more possible. What if I don't see her, will I tell you?

Hi Plokonyo,

It might be helpful to distinguish two things: (1) what the words literally mean, and (2) what is implied. Let's take this example:

• If it doesn't rain tomorrow, we'll go to the beach.

For (1), the literal meaning, it only has information about what we will do if it doesn't rain. It says nothing explicit about the opposite situation - what we will do if it does rain. So, to answer the question you asked: "what if it rains tomorrow, will we go to the beach?" If we take the sentence literally, we cannot answer this question. It has no information about that.

However, meaning is not contained in words alone. This brings us to (2) - what is implied. By saying "If it doesn't rain tomorrow, ..." (i.e., a condition for the action), the speaker implies that if it actually does rain tomorrow, the action will be different (because if the action will be the same, then it doesn't actually matter whether it rains or not, so there is no reason to mention it). The speaker may imply, for example:

• If it rains tomorrow, we won't go to the beach.
• If it rains tomorrow, we might or might not go to the beach. It depends how heavy the rain is.

Both of these (we won't go / we might or might not go) are different from the original (we'll go).

So, should you interpret a sentence like this literally, or read the implications? That will depend on what the exact context is. But I would say that in conversation and other social situations, the implication is likely to be important. It's normal that there is some ambiguity or lack of clarity about the implication, since it is not stated explicitly, so you might feel unsure about e.g. whether they will go to the beach if it does rain. But in a real conversation this may be the point where the listener asks the speaker to clarify: "How about if it does rain? Will you still go?"

I hope that somehow helps to make sense of it.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

"We use the first conditional when we talk about future situations we believe are real or possible". What is the actual meaning of "real" or "possible" in the type first conditional form?

Arsenal will be top of the league if they win.

Hi Plokonyo,

It means that in the speaker's view, the situation can be reasonably expected to happen or to be true - although, like many future events, it is still ultimately uncertain. In this example, it means that it is reasonable to expect that Arsenal will win (although, of course, it does not guarantee it) - and if they do, they will be top of the league. In other words, the sentence indicates something about the real world that we all live in and experience.

Compare it with a second conditional: Arsenal would be top of the league if they won. This speaker imagines Arsenal winning but considers it impossible, or unlikely to happen. Expanding the example might help to illustrate why it's impossible/unlikely: Arsenal would be top of the league if they won, but they've got so many injured players I don't think they've got a chance. With the second conditional, something major about the real world would need to unexpectedly change (e.g. injured players suddenly regaining fitness, or Arsenal signing many new players), in order for Arsenal to be able to win. That's why the second conditional shows an imagined situation - it's separated from the real world.

It would be less typical for a speaker to use the first conditional in this sentence ("Arsenal will be top if they win ... but I don't think they've got a chance"), because the first conditional's 'real-worldness' conflicts with the idea that "I don't think they've got a chance".

I hope that helps to understand it.

Jonathan