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

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Hello mary.j,

I'm sorry that was confusing. The inclusion of those parts under the first conditional was our attempt to keep the explanation simple, because these forms could fit in many places. The whole idea that there are four different conditionals is actually a fiction -- in reality, we just use the forms that make sense given what we want to communicate. The labels of 'first conditional', etc., are just names we use for the most common combinations of verb forms.

'unless' means something like 'if ... not': 'I don't want to stay in London if I don't get a well-paid job'.

It's also possible to say 'I won't want to stay in London unless I get a well-paid job', though I think the present form is more natural. This sentence expresses the conditions under which the speaker wants to stay in London; their desire is already present.

If we removed 'want' from the sentence, several forms would all mean pretty much the same thing: 'I won't stay in London unless ...', 'I'm not going to stay in London unless ...' and 'I'm not staying in London unless ...'

'as long as' and 'provided that' are two other expressions used to speak about conditions. You could also say 'You can go to the party if you're back by midnight' and it has the same fundamental meaning, but 'as long as' is a stronger statement about the conditions. If I said 'as long as' to my teenage son, he would understand that I would be quite upset if he came home later. If I said 'if', it's not as explicit that I definitely want him home by midnight.

I hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Thanks Kirk Moore

Thanks for your great explanation. I totally understand the second paragraph. About the first paragraph as I get, it doesn't have different meaning, but in conversation it's more common to use present in both clause, am I right?

Hello mary.j,

I think the reason the present is more natural in this sentence is because of the verb 'want'. Since 'want' speaks about an emotional state, which we general speak about from experience (i.e. we already feel the emotion), then it's more natural to use the present. It's not impossible to use 'want' in a future form to speak about a future emotion, but I think we generally use present here.

With verbs that are more actions than emotional, both present and future forms could generally work with 'unless'.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by User_1 on Tue, 10/10/2023 - 15:30

Permalink

Hello,
I would ask you about the second conditional.
It is written:" The second conditional is used to imagine present or future situations that are impossible or unlikely in reality".
Regarding future situations that are possible or impossible, unlikely or likely in reality; future situations that can happen as not to happen, possible or not possible facts:
Can I use the form of the conditional second in the "if" clause?
E.g.
If the weather made things change...
Otherwise, what is the correct form in the if clause?
Thanks for help.

Hello User_1,

The so-called second conditional is not a verb form but a sentence pattern with two clauses: if + past > (then) would + verb.

As you can see, the form used in the if-clause is past tense. This may be past simple or past continuous, depending on the context. Thus, your example has the correct form, though it's not easy to think of a context where the sentence would be useful. Perhaps something like this:

If the weather made things change then we would have problems making any plans.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Peter,
Yes, Peter. Thanks for your explanation.
I know the sentence pattern of the second conditional, but in my case the context would be a wish... something like that:
"If the weather made things change, I hope you will remember..."
Could that be correct?
Thank you

Hello again User_1,

I see. In that case the answer is no. Generally, 'hope' implies a possible rather than a hypothetical situation so we would use 'will':

If the weather makes things change, I hope you'll remember...

I think the first part is rather awkward, incidentally. A more natural phrasing would be something like 'If the weather changes/improves)...' or 'If your plans change because of the weather...'

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello again Peter,
sorry for asking more about it.
I would refer to a hypothetical context, so I will not use "hope".
Could you suggest me a form of wish in a hypothetical context that does not depend on will?
Thanks a lot!

Hello again User_1,

'Wish' is used for present or past counter-factual situations (I wish I were taller / I wish I hadn't taken the job), not for future events, however likely or unlikely. I think you're trying to fit 'wish' into a place that it just cannot go, I'm afraid.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team