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 (363 votes)

Submitted by User_1 on Sat, 18/03/2023 - 09:49

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Hello,
I have doubts regarding the structure of the English subjunctive in the present form.
When should I use it in place of the simple present?
Please, could you give me some examples?
If I express my opinion, which would the correct sentence be?
ex: I think you are clever, or I think you be clever?
Thanks for your help.

Hello User_1,

The subjunctive is slowly disappearing from English but it is still used in certain constructions and after certain verbs. However, your example is not correct as 'think' is not one of those verbs.

 

Here is a list of the most common verbs which are followed by the subjunctive. Note, however, that the present simple is also possible with all of them as it is slowly replacing the subjunctive, as I said above.

advise, ask, command, demand, desire, insist, propose, recommend, request, suggest, urge

There are also some phrases which can be followed by the subjunctive:

It is best, it is crucial, it is desirable, it is essential, it is imperative, it is important, it is recommended, it is urgent, it is vital

 

There's actually a good wikipedia page on the topic with many examples and lists of the constructions and verbs which require the form. Here it is:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_subjunctive

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Peter,
Thanks for the explanation.
I always use the present simple with the verb "think", but sometimes doubts come to my mind.

Submitted by flaze3 on Mon, 13/03/2023 - 02:26

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So what about conditionals like "if he didn't come to work yesterday, he was probably ill"? Is it a zero conditional? It's not a general truth, but a logical deduction. I understand this is an example of a "real conditional", but I'm not sure how it fits into the 0,1,2,3 ranking. If we were to say "if I went to his house, I took beer with me", that seems to be a clearer example of a 1st conditional, since the implication is that it was a repeated event - we could replace "if" with "when" and the sentence would still work. However, in the first sentence, we cannot replace "if" with "when", so I am unsure of how to categorize it.

Hi flaze3,

The zero/first/second/third system presents some common conditional forms and meanings, and it is quite widely used in learning materials. However, it has also been criticised for missing out a wide variety of forms and meanings that are actually used in real life, and you pointed out some good examples of this. My personal opinion is that it is a somewhat useful system - but it is also a limited one, and we cannot classify all examples of real-life conditionals usage in it.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Prerana.Peru on Sat, 25/02/2023 - 08:28

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The question that haunts me is the usage of 'could' or 'would' in these type of conditionals. Could you clarify with examples ?
Is it correct to use I could change my course, if I knew its evil terms and conditions.

Helpful Article. Thanks a lot

Hello Prerana.Peru,

'would' and 'could' are both very commonly used in second conditionals. 'could' is basically the verb 'can' in a conditional tense.

Yes, the sentence you ask about is grammatically correct.

We're happy to help you understand any other specific examples or questions you have -- please just make them as specific as possible. It's also helpful if you explain to us how you understand the sentences so that we can better see how to help you.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by mawski on Wed, 22/02/2023 - 21:41

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Hi!
Is it okay to use 'going to' to replace 'will' in conditional 1?
Or using 'will' is a must?

Hi mawski,

You can use a range of verb forms in place of 'will' - going to is one and so are other modals than will: might, may, should etc.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Mary.888 on Sat, 18/02/2023 - 06:36

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Hello,
I'd like to know how we can use "first conditional" when we are talking about a possible situation that happened in the past.
For example when I was at school my father said: "if you study hard, I will buy you a bicycle". This is conditional type 1.
Now when I'm going to tell this as a story to someone, how can I tell it?
Is it OK to say like this:
When I was a school student my father told me If you studied hard, I would buy you a bicycle? (This structure sounds like conditional type 2, but I know in reality it was type1.)