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

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

Submitted by Teresa R. on Tue, 05/12/2023 - 14:38

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Hello. I saw this sentence in a book “If we were to have ever had a child, I like to imagine it would look like him”.

For context, this sentence is said by an old couple who cannot have children anymore, and they’re saying this while they’re looking at a young man.

My question is, can the verbal construction “were to have had” be replaced by the past perfect (“if we had had a child, I like to imagine…)? Or would the meaning change?

Hello Teresa R.,

Yes, it is perfectly fine to use the past perfect here. In fact, it is much more commonly used than the form you read in the book, which is more formal.

There is no difference in meaning. The only difference is that the form you read is more formal and more tentative, which could be significant in showing something about the characters who said it. But it refers to exactly the same idea of their hypothetical child.

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Nyenok on Sun, 03/12/2023 - 08:56

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Hi everyone. Which should I say?

Will it be all right if bring a friend?
Would it all right if brought a friend?

Hello Nyenok,

If you want to ask permission to bring a friend, you should use the second sentence (though please note I've made a couple of small corrections):

Would it be all right if I brought a friend?

Even in informal situations with close friends, it is the correct form to use.

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Thanks, Kirk. English grammar explains "Will it be all right if I bring a friend?" (direct), whereas "Would it be all right if I brought a friend?" (Less direct)

Could you explain what' meant by the term "direct" and "less direct?" It's confusing me.

Hello Nyenok,

In the context of making requests or giving advice, in general 'would' is more polite than 'will' because it is considered less direct. I recently explained the difference between 'direct' and 'less direct' in a response to Selet's comment on our 'will' and 'would' page. Please have a look and my response, as I think it will answer your question.

If not, please feel free to write back here.

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by skesha on Thu, 23/11/2023 - 18:49

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I can't understand why Emily Dickinson uses "unveil" instead of "unveils" where she says, "It yet remains to see if Immortality unveil a third event to me."

Hi skesha,

This seems like the subjunctive, which isn't used as much in modern English as it was in the past. The subjunctive verb form indicates something unreal (e.g. imagined or hypothetical). It has the same verb form as the base verb, including for he/she/it (e.g. the subjunctive form of "go" is "go", for all persons). That's why Emily Dickinson's sentence has "unveil" rather than "unveil". It does sound unusual to our modern ears, though.

Here are a couple of structure with which the subjunctive is still used in modern English.

• It's important that he see a doctor right away.
• The teacher requires that she hand in the homework on time.
• My recommendation is that the matter be investigated.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team