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 (362 votes)

Submitted by noechka on Tue, 19/09/2023 - 02:00

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Dear teachers,

Could you please tell me and explain me (giving me some grammar book references) if the following sentence is a zero ou first conditional: "If the child makes a request, such as asking for food, the caregiver may reward the child by providing it"?

Thanks in advance for your help and attention!

Noemi

Hello noechka,

Yes, this sentence fits the pattern of what is sometimes called 'the first conditional'.

 

The form of this construction is as follows: if + present > will + verb

However, other modal verbs can be used and not only 'will'. For example, you can use 'might', 'should', 'can', 'may' and others depending on the meaning required. Your sentence is an example of this – it uses 'may' as the modal verb in the result clause rather than 'will' to indicate a choice or option.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you so much for answering me, Peter!

I have just another question related to another English Language topic, which I would be very gratuful if you could answer me.

The question is: In the sentence: "Numerous language acquisition theories in the English Language aim to understand and explain how the process begins and processes", the verb that can better replace the verb "aim", without meaning change is:
A) objectify
B) attempt
C) seek
D) try

In my opinion is C) seek. Is that correct?

Thank you so much for your help!

Hello again noechka,

Answers B, C and D are all possible here so it is a question of which best fits the style of the passage. The passage is written in a formal, academic style so I agree that C fits best, though it is a subjective question and I would not say that B and D are incorrect.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Vi_Vi on Mon, 11/09/2023 - 10:36

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Good morning!
On the First conditional, an example says "I don't want to stay in London unless I get a well-paid job.". Here, the present simple form is used instead of Will + infinitive in the main clause. Is it because there is a stative verb (want) used?
Thank you in advance.

Hi Vi_Vi,

This may be quite a complicated answer but I'll try to explain it clearly! The usual form of the first conditional is with "will" in the main clause, as you say. However, in real life, conditional structures are actually more varied, and there are other possible verbs.

The sentence refers to a future situation/action that the speaker considers to be realistic. Although it doesn't have "will" in the main clause to show this, it has the verb "want" which does refer to the future. So, the whole sentence still has the first conditional "meaning", although it's not a typical example. Here are some other atypical examples.

  • If you didn't pass the exam last year, you'll have another chance this year.
  • I'm planning to buy a house next year if I have enough money.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by agnesmag1 on Thu, 07/09/2023 - 09:24

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Hello,
I found an exercise about the 2 conditional that says the sentence "If I had written Hunger Games, I would be a very rich woman" is correct. Why it's not simply "If I wrote Hunger Games, I would be a very rich woman"?

Hi agnesmag1,

"If I wrote ..." shows an unreal present or future action. However, the book has already been written and it already exists. So, the speaker/writer wants to show an unreal past action. That's why it should be "If I had written ...". The idea is: If I had written Hunger Games (in the past), I would be a very rich woman (now / by now).

Does that make sense?

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Thank you Jonathan, but I was thinking it's mixed, rather than second conditional. So, to me, in this sentence the combination of 2 and 3 is used to talk about hypothetical situations happening in the past (third conditional) with a present result (second conditional). What do you think?