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

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Hello MartialWhite,

In this context there is no real difference in meaning. If I recover describes the future act of becoming healthy; if I have recovered describes the future state of being healthy. It's really just two different ways of looking at the same situation.



The LearnEnglish Team

For me, the correct sentence is the 1st conditional:
I will go swimming with you on Monday if I recover from this cold.
if (present simple), I will (verb)
Good luck

Submitted by Darelia_1325 on Thu, 25/05/2023 - 02:25


I Have a question, what's the difference between:
I could have sat in the garden if it had not rained.
I would not have sat in the garden if it had rained.
I would not have been sitting in the garden if it had rained.
I would not sit in the garden when it rained.
I would not be sitting in the garden if it rained.

Hello Darelia_1325,

1, 2 and 3 are all third conditional sentences, which are explained on our Conditionals: third and mixed page. The phrase 'if it had (not) rained' refers to an imaginary past time, in other words, something that did not really happen -- it's just something we imagine.

The phrase 'when it rained' in 4 refers to the past. It is not a conditional. 'would' describes a habitual or repeated past action in this case. Another way of saying this is 'When it rained, I didn't sit in the garden' (referring to a past time in your life).

5 is a second conditional. It refers to an imaginary present or future time when it's raining and you are not in the garden. It could be used when you are sitting in the garden and it is not raining.

Hope this helps you make sense of these.

All the best,
LearnEnglish team

The sentences you provided illustrate different conditional forms and express varying meanings. Here's a breakdown of their differences:

"I could have sat in the garden if it had not rained."
This sentence represents the third conditional. It suggests that the possibility of sitting in the garden was dependent on the condition of it not raining. However, it implies that it did rain, so the opportunity to sit in the garden did not occur.
"I would not have sat in the garden if it had rained."
This sentence also represents the third conditional. It conveys that the speaker did sit in the garden, implying that it did not rain. However, if it had rained, the speaker would not have chosen to sit in the garden.
"I would not have been sitting in the garden if it had rained."
This sentence is similar to the previous one in expressing the third conditional. It implies that the speaker was sitting in the garden, suggesting that it did not rain. However, if it had rained, the speaker would not have been in the garden, indicating that the sitting occurred under specific conditions.
"I would not sit in the garden when it rained."
This sentence represents a general statement and does not fall into a specific conditional form. It suggests that the speaker does not typically sit in the garden when it is raining, implying a habitual or general preference.
"I would not be sitting in the garden if it rained."
This sentence represents the second conditional. It implies that the speaker is currently sitting in the garden. However, it suggests that if it started raining, the speaker would not continue sitting in the garden.
In summary, the sentences differ in the conditional forms used, the timing of the actions, and the implied possibilities or preferences based on the given conditions.

Submitted by linhho on Wed, 10/05/2023 - 15:39


I have a question about 2nd conditional: in writing, in if clause, tobe -> were for all subjects? Included all pronouns and other subjects?
Ex: 1/ if the weather were good….
2/ if the weather was good …
Which one is correct in writing?

Thank you!

Hi linhho,

Neither is incorrect. I would say that 'were' is a little more traditional and so can be considered more 'correct' in formal contexts. In less formal contexts both are used. It's really more a question of formality and the attitudes of the people communicating than one of writing vs speaking.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Amir__760__ on Tue, 09/05/2023 - 16:59


Hello support team
I hope you are doing well.
Which of the sentences below is grammatically correct?

She seems as if she had seen a ghost.

She seems as if she saw a ghost.

Thank you

Hi Amir__760__,

Thanks! Hope you are doing fine as well.

Sentence 1 uses the past perfect ("had seen"), which should be used when the action happened before another past event. Sentence 1 does not mention any other past event, so there is no reason to use the past perfect and it is incorrect. However, "She seemed as if she had seen a ghost" is correct.

Sentence 2 is fine. However, the speaker's use of the present simple ("seems") shows that the action ("saw a ghost") probably happened just moments ago, it would be good to use the present perfect ("She seems as if she's seen a ghost"). Using the past simple ("saw") refers to a defined past moment or time, but if the event has only just happened then the present perfect would be preferred. 

I hope that helps.