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Conditionals 1

Do you know how to use the zero, first and second conditionals?

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

Nivel de idioma

Intermediate: B1

Comments

If he was outside our door, he heard our conversation.

I think I've heard this kind of conditional sentences many times. Isn't this grammatically wrong, because a modal verb isn't used in the main clause, which should have been used? Maybe it is used in informal spoken English, but actually incorrect?

Hello again Kim Hui-jeong

As I mentioned in response to your other comment below, this sentence speaks about a past situation, not an imaginary (conditional) situation. This means that if he was really outside our door, it was impossible for him not to have heard our conversation.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

If you want to achieve your goal, you have to start fulfilling your plan right now.
/If he saw her playing games, then he saw her lying in her bed.

Aren't these sentences grammatically wrong in the main clauses? Because I think I've heard this kind of sentence a few times. Maybe it is used in informal spoken English, sir?

Hello Kim Hui-jeong

These sentences are grammatically correct. Note that not all sentences with the word 'if' are conditionals. If we are not speaking about imaginary situations, we just use the normal verb tenses, i.e. the present tense to refer to the present, past tenses to refer to the past, etc. That seems to be the case in the second sentence here -- it means that since he saw her playing games, he must have seen her lying in her bed.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

In first conditional examples:

- I don't want to stay in London unless I get a well-paid job.
- You can go to the party, as long as you're back by midnight.

Why (the if clause/the main clause) in these two examples are present simple although one of them should be (will + inf) according to the structure?

Hello khalid ibrahim,

As you say, we generally use a modal verb in the main clause of real/likely future conditional sentences. Typically, this is will:

If I see Susan, I'll invite her to the party.

However, other modal verbs than will can be used:

If you see Susan, you should invite her to the party.

If he sees Susan, he can invite her to the party.

Your second sentence is an example of this. You could use a different modal verb in place of can, such as may.

 

Your first example is a little different. There are some verbs which describe our beliefs about the future which can be used in this way. We use a present form because we are describing our present views on a situation, not the result of a condition. Verbs used commonly in this way include want, expect, hope, fear and believe:

I don't want to stay in London unless I get a well-paid job.

I don't expect to stay in London unless I get a well-paid job.

I don't hope to stay in London unless I get a well-paid job.

I believe him, unless there is proof he's lying.

I fear for the future unless we change our way of living.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team 

Got it, thx

Hello teacher,

I would like to know whether the following sentences convey different meanings:

1. If I eat dairy products, I get red spots on my skin. vs If I eat dairy products, I will get red spots on my skin
2. If the weather is nice, Mary walks to work. vs If the weather is nice, Mary is going to walk to work.

Thank you.
Pat

Hello patph0510,

The answer to your question is on the page above. Look at the explanations for zero and first conditionals and apply them to your examples. This should answer your question for you.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks for your reply.

Actually I am still a bit confused as to the difference between the two after reading the explanation above. Could I say that Zero Conditional refers to a general situation while Conditional One refers to a specific situation? For example:

1. If I eat dairy products, I get red spots on my skin. --> this sentence tells us about a general truth about the speaker.

2. If I eat dairy products, I will get red spots on my skin --> this sentence is about a specific situation; the speaker may be telling a waiter about his food allergies before ordering food

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