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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Profile picture for user tranquocvien

Submitted by tranquocvien on Thu, 11/04/2024 - 10:25

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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.

Can we use ' I was ....' in second conditional? Thanks....

Submitted by lolamaserola on Sun, 11/02/2024 - 15:36

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Why when you are using the zero conditional, you say "If I were (...)" instead of "if I was (...)"?

Hi lolamaserola,

This is actually the second conditional. "Were" in "If I were ..." is a verb form called the past subjunctive, which is not used so much in modern English but is still used in a few phrases and structures such as after if, if onlyas if, as though and I wish

It is also acceptable to use the past simple form instead, e.g. I wish I was rich.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

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Submitted by ltampu81 on Fri, 02/02/2024 - 05:13

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Thank you for the lesson.

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Submitted by Ivyxoxo on Tue, 30/01/2024 - 14:10

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Hello,
If he falls off his bicycle, he gets hurt. Or
If he falls off his bicycle, he will get hurt.
Thank you so much

Hello Ivyxoxo,

The first sentence (with zero conditional) is possible but unlikely. It means that every time he falls off his bicycle, he gets hurt. This might be true, but it's difficult for me to imagine a situation when I'd use this sentence.

The second sentence (first conditional) means that possibly he will fall and if he does, he will get hurt. 

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

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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!