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 (328 votes)
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Submitted by Ivyxoxo on Mon, 29/01/2024 - 09:35

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Hello, I would like to know that we may not drink too much coffee but why we still use zero conditional in the sentence “If I drink too much coffee, I can't sleep at night.”

Hello Ivyxoxo,

This sentence means the same as 'When I drink too much coffee, I can't sleep at night'. It means that it always happen when you drink too much coffee.

If it doesn't always happen but you think that it might happen, it'd be better to use a first conditional: 'If I drink too much coffee, I won't be able to sleep at night'.

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by howtosay_ on Wed, 03/01/2024 - 13:47

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Hello, dear teachers and team!

May this year bring you lots of happiness and joy!

Could you please help me with the following:

Can we use the second conditional to talk about real events from the past, like

1.

A. If we wanted to, we would travel to different cities at any time. (Both parts are real in the past) Is this sentence correct, and what about these ones to talk about real past:

B. If we had wanted to, we used to travel to different cities at any time

C. If we wanted to, we used to travel to different cities at any time.

2. Can the second conditional be used instead of the third one in informal speech? Can I say "If he didn't miss the bus yesterday, he would be on time for the meeting" instead of "If he hadn't missed the bus yesterday, he would have been on time for the meeting"? And if I can, is it possible in both British and American English?

I'm always grateful for your constant help with confusing issues and thank you very much indeed for your answer to this post beforehand!

Hello howtosay_,

1) By definition, a second conditional only talks about unreal events in the present or future.

That said, you can certainly use past tenses to refer to real past events. Both sentences A and C are correct, for example, assuming the traveling to different cities was something the speaker did regularly.

Sentence B doesn't make sense to me. As far as I can think it's not impossible to use a past perfect to refer to a real past event, but in this case I find it confusing. 

2) We probably use mixed conditionals more often in informal speech, but it could be confusing not to use the past perfect form when referring to an unreal past event, i.e. something that did not occur. Perhaps some people might not use the form occasionally, but it could be confusing not to use the form properly, particularly if you're a non-native speaker.

Hope this helps!

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Username656602 on Tue, 26/12/2023 - 20:46

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Hello,

would you tell me what the difference is between “I don't want to stay in London unless I get a well-paid job" and "I won't want to stay in London unless I get a well-paid job"

​thanks in advance

Hi Username656602,

There is not a big difference. "I won't want ..." is more obviously about a future situation, and refers to not wanting to stay in London at some unspecified moment in the future.

"I don't want ..." could also refer to the future. Alternatively, it could mean that the speaker feels that way presently, i.e. at the moment of saying this sentence, although the action of moving away from London still depends on getting a well-paid job (or not) in the future.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Mangku Purel on Thu, 14/12/2023 - 10:59

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Hello mates.I can't understand the terms "likely" and "unlikely" in a conditional sentence. Does "would" mean unlikely. I'm unlikely to get the job. And "will" means likely. I will likely get the job. Please explain.

It would be great if you got the job. suggesting that getting the job is unlikely.
It will be great if you get the job. suggesting that getting the job is likely

Hi Mangku Purel,

Yes, right. In the sentence with "would" and "got", the speaker thinks it is not so likely to happen. In the sentence with "will" and "get", the speaker thinks that there is a reasonable chance that it can happen.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Heloo Jonathan thank you. Why is it unlikely? Can you illustrate how I see the situtuation? Or the speaker is just imagining or how?

Whereas in the sentence "will" and "get", is the speaker interviewing at a company, aften finishing he says this and uses the first conditional?

Hello Mangku Purel,

When the speaker uses 'would' or 'will', they are showing you what they think about the likelihood of it happening. The context, which includes the listener's knowledge of the speaker and their thoughts, is also crucial.

There are so many possible situations in which someone could say 'will get' that it's impossible to explain them all. I think the best thing you can do is read texts in English and be alert to 'will' and 'would'. In the context of a fuller text, the meaning will be much easier to understand.

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team