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

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Submitted by ValerieP on Wed, 24/02/2021 - 06:45

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Hello Peter, Could you please clarify why we use present simple in both parts of the first conditional sentences if it's not a modal verb, a going to or an imperative structure in a result part, for example "I don't want to stay in London unless I get a well-paid job" Thanks in advance!

Hello ValerieP,

In the if-clause (here, unless has the meaning 'if not'), we use a present form, so this is normal. The result clause normally refers to a likely or expected future result and uses a modal verb such as will:

I won't stay in London unless I get a well-paid job.

Other modal verbs can be used as well: might, can, should etc.

 

However, there are some verbs which express present attitudes towards the future which we can use in the result clause. Want is one of these:

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

Other verbs like this include hope, expect, plan and intend. I'm sure you can see the semantic similarities here.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by gsgxxiii on Wed, 17/02/2021 - 09:17

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Let's say, I have something that I rarely use, but I don't want to throw it away because I think I may need it in the future. So, do I use conditional 1 or 2? I thought I should keep it just in case I needed to use it. I thought I should keep it just in case I need to use it.

Hi gsg238,

Both are possible! It depends how likely you think you are to need it. Using the first conditional (in case I need to use it) means that you think there is a reasonable chance that you will need it. Using the second conditional (in case I needed to use it) means that you see this as unlikely to happen.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Widescreen on Tue, 16/02/2021 - 00:09

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Hi Kirt and Peter, Could you please help me clarify this sentence ? " EVEN you are unsure of the standard procedures in any situation, please don't hesitate to consult with your manager." Is it correct if I use "EVEN" or "EVEN IF"? Thank you.

Hi Widescreen,

No, you can't use even by itself here. You could use just if or even if.

 

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

 

 

Submitted by Dwishiren on Thu, 28/01/2021 - 16:30

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Sir, I'm still a bit confused in what situation to use the first and second conditional. What's the difference the following sentences? Arsenal will be top of the league if they win. Arsenal would be top of the league if they win. If I know, I will tell you. If I know, I would tell you.

Hello Dwishiren,

The second sentence in each pair is not correct. It should be '...if they won' and  'If I knew'.

 

We use present + will (or other modal verbs) when we think the situation is likely. We use past + would (or other modal verbs) if we think the situation is unlikely or impossible:

 

Arsenal will be top of the league if they win - I think it is likely that they will win.

Arsenal would be top of the league if they won - I don't believe that they will win.

 

If I know, I will tell you - I think there is a chance I will know.

If I knew, I would tell you - I don't believe I will know.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by gsgxxiii on Mon, 25/01/2021 - 01:03

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For first conditional sentences, can i use : if + present simple >> could + infinitive. Or do I have to use will all the time.

Hello gsg238,

You can use many modal verbs in the main clause of conditional sentences:

If I take the job, I will earn more money.

If I take the job, I might earn more money.

If I take the job, I may earn more money.

If I take the job, I can earn more money.

If I take the job, I could earn more money.

If I take the job, I should earn more money.

If I take the job, I must earn more money.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by BobMux on Sat, 16/01/2021 - 13:37

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Hello The LearnEnglish Team, May you please help me understand better why we have used first conditional for the sentence is below, while it seems a rule and needs to be in first conditional: Your membership will only be renewed if you pay your subscription within the next seven days!

Hello BobMux,

I think you have misphrased your question as you are asking why the sentence is a first conditional rather than a first conditional!

 

The form is used because it describes a real situation rather than a hypothetical one and it decribes a concrete case rather than a general truth.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by IanCorx on Wed, 13/01/2021 - 18:20

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Hi team, Can you use “whether” interchangeable with “if” in the conditionals?
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Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 14/01/2021 - 08:19

In reply to by IanCorx

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Hello IanCorx,

No, we don't replace if with whether in conditionals.

You can use whether or not in place of if to indicate that your action will not change irrespective of the condition:

If the film is good, I'll stay to the end.

Whether or not the film is good, I'll stay to the end.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Yigido on Fri, 18/12/2020 - 18:46

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Hi team, This sentence;''If I am lazy,I will not pass the exam, so I will work more.'' Is grammatically true?My teacher sad - - You can not use IF and SO togather in a sentence for the same condition.-Is it a rule? ;Can not I use any conjunction(because,and,but...)in the conditional sentences?or How I use?
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Submitted by Kirk on Sat, 19/12/2020 - 14:39

In reply to by Yigido

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Hello Yigido,

In speaking, where we don't use punctuation, this sentence is fine. But in writing, it's a run-on sentence, which is not correct in most situations. I'd recommend ending the first sentence after 'exam' and then starting a new one with 'So'.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Teacher, can you correct me?In writing,ın conditionals we can't use any conjunction(but,because, so, and, but...) Instead of we can end - conditional sentence-and start new sentence.

Hello again Yigido,

What you wrote can work as a general recommendation, but I wouldn't call it a rule. In other words, there is no rule against using conjunctions in conditional sentences, but in the particular sentence you asked about, I'd recommend breaking it into two sentences.

This is not because the sentence is a conditional so much as it has to do with avoiding run-on sentences.

Hope this helps.

Best wishes,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Vitalii Bordun on Fri, 04/12/2020 - 13:42

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Hello. Why in the rule in the Second conditional is - he/she/it were, but in the examples is - he/she was?
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Submitted by Kirk on Fri, 04/12/2020 - 13:55

In reply to by Vitalii Bordun

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Hello Vitalii Bordun,

Both 'was' and 'were' are correct in the second conditional and other situations that are considered hypothetical or unreal.

In other words, you can use a past simple form ('was' or 'were' depending on the person) or you can use 'were' for any person ('I', 'they', 'she', etc.).

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Bineetha on Fri, 30/10/2020 - 11:42

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Please let me know what type of conditional sentence is this. For example, it would be appreciated if you could assess Mr John for any pancreatic malignancy.

Hello Bineetha,

That has the form of a second conditional, but really it's a polite request. In other words, this is a polite way of saying 'Please assess Mr John for any pancreatic malignancy'. It's polite because it's indirect -- the hypothetical way it expresses the action makes it indirect.

Does that make sense?

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Via on Wed, 14/10/2020 - 05:58

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Hello, When should we use 'will' and 'would' when making a sentence? I mean the condition, I have a little bit confusing about this. Thank you
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Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 15/10/2020 - 07:11

In reply to by Via

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Hello Via,

I'm afraid this is a very general question. The comments sections of the site are for short answers rather than long explanations. We're happy to explain any examples on our pages which you find confusing or unclear, and we'll try to help if you need help expressing something.

 

Longer explanations are published on our pages and if you search for a given topic in the grammar reference section then you'll often find the information you need. We have a page on will vs would, for example:

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar-reference/will-and-would

We also have a page on verb forms in time clauses and if clauses:

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar-reference/verbs-in-time-clauses-and-if-clauses

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by polina1526 on Mon, 12/10/2020 - 17:04

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This excersice could become really helpful for students in Russia who are willing to pass the English Unified State Exam at the end of the 11th form. In this exam, one needs to write an essay and give a lot of examples on the topic, so using the conditionals is an excellent way to show the point of view and make it seem more structured.

Submitted by emmanuelniyomugabo12 on Fri, 25/09/2020 - 00:15

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Thanks for the lesson

Submitted by Ali_Gokalp98 on Tue, 15/09/2020 - 13:30

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Hello, I've realised that I'd never seen "must" used in sentences include first conditional clauses. For example, there are many sentences, which include first conditional clauses, made up with may, might, can, will, shall, should, would, could. However I have not come across with any sentence include "must" yet. Can we use "must" in such sentences as well? Thanks in advance.
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Submitted by Kirk on Wed, 16/09/2020 - 14:50

In reply to by Ali_Gokalp98

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Hello Ali_Gokapl98,

As far as I know, 'must' can be used in a first conditional sentence. For example, one could say 'If you must know, I'll tell you'. It might be a bit unusual, though.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you for your response, What I meant was whether I'm able to use "must" in the main clause or not while building first conditional sentences. For example, is the following clause grammatiaclly correct? - If you want to be successful in the exam, you must study hard. I'm wondering whether it is correct or not because I've never seen any first conditional sentences include "must" in the main part.

Hello Ali_Gokalp98,

Your example is fine.

It's perfectly fine to use a range of modal verbs in the result clause of a conditional sentence. Sometimes this is will or would, but other modals can also be used:

If you go to the party, you will meet her.

If you go to the party, you might see her.

If you go to the party, you should talk to her.

If you go to the party, you must talk to her.

If you go to the party, you can't talk to her.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ali_Gokalp98 on Mon, 14/09/2020 - 20:54

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Hello, While building a second conditional sentence, in which way the verb "be" is used in sentences indicate presence of something. Take two sentences below, which one is grammatically correct? 1) I would take you to a hospital, if there were one. 2) I would take you to a hospital, if there was one. Thank you in advance.
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Submitted by Kirk on Tue, 15/09/2020 - 08:08

In reply to by Ali_Gokalp98

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Hello Ali_Gokalp98,

When we use 'be' in such a situation, 'were' is correct for all subjects and 'was' is correct for 'I', 'he', 'she' and 'it'. I'm not aware of any difference for 'there is/are'. In other words, as far as I know, both of the sentences you ask about are correct. Some people say that 'were' is better here, so if you're writing this, that might be a better choice.

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by yo_carme on Thu, 10/09/2020 - 09:32

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Thanks for the great material! Can I use unless, provided, as long as, etc. with all conditional forms or only for the 1st conditional?

Hello yo_carme,

Glad you find it useful! You can certainly use these words with other verb tenses, but I'm not sure you can use them all with all the different conditional forms.

I'd recommend you have a look at the example sentences in a good dictionary (for example, see the Grammar box for 'unless') to see how they're used there. Then, if you want to write a specific sentence or two to ask us to check if they're all right, please feel free to do so.

Hope this helps!

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by LilyLinSZ on Thu, 03/09/2020 - 12:25

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Hi English Team, 1. If she is travelling abroad on business, she always phones me every morning. - Could I say "If she travels abroad on business..."? 2. If age-related changes are taken into account, the conclusion remains the same. - Could I say "...will remain the same"? 3. If I fail my exam again, I am giving up the course - Could I say "...I will give up the course." Thanks in advance.

Hello LilyLinSZ,

Changing the verb form changes the meaning, so while you could say the alternative sentences you ask about, I can't really say if they're appropriate or not because I don't know what the situation and your intentions are.

For example, it would be strange to say what you propose in 1, though I'm not sure I'd say it's incorrect. In any case, I'd probably say 'When' instead of 'If' here, unless I've misunderstood the idea. In 2, 'will remain' would work better if, for example, you had to run a complex computer model to get results and then draw a conclusion. But if it's something simpler, the simple present form is probably better. Again, I'd be tempted to say 'when' here. In 3, 'I will' expresses a decision you're taking in the moment, whereas the present continuous form expresses a plan you have, i.e. you've probably already taken the decision before now.

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by TiaS on Sun, 23/08/2020 - 08:00

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Hi sir, "If we had a garden, we could have a cat." Can we write this sentence as "if we were to have a garden, we could have a cat."
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Submitted by Jo G on Sun, 23/08/2020 - 10:26

In reply to by TiaS

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Hello TiaS Yes, that's fine. You can use 'were to' like this to emphasise the improbability of the condition. Best wishes Jo The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Naureen on Sat, 22/08/2020 - 06:46

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Hi, Please help is it correct use of 1st conditional when I am talking in reference to future---- "If there is any work pending, I will work overtime to complete all my backlog upon my return." ----
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Submitted by Peter M. on Sat, 22/08/2020 - 09:06

In reply to by Naureen

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Hi Naureen,

That sentence looks fine to me. Well done!

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by everyday-nato on Thu, 20/08/2020 - 07:20

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Hello teacher, I found this lesson very helpful. Thank you. I often hear people say "I'd appreciate if you could +verb(present tense)". Personally, I wonder if I can also say "I'd appreciate if you +verb(past tense)." If it's possible, I guess the nuance of the two sentences is different. So, Could you explain to me about it?

Hello everyday-nato,

The forms here are actually present subjunctive and past subjuntive. These are not the same as present and past tense.

We use the subjunctive to describe things that are not true but that we would like to be true or hope can be true (present subjunctive), and things which are not true and which we acknowledge may not become true (past subjunctive). The names (present and past) are misleading and do not refer to time but to form.

 

The present subjunctive form is the same as the base form of the verb; it does not change in the third person.

The past subjunctive form is the same as the past simple.

 

In your examples, you could use either form. The present subjunctive suggests that the speaker expects the other person to comply; the past subjunctive implicitly acknowledges that they may not, making it a more polite form as it is more tentative.

 

You can read more about the Englishs subjunctive here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_subjunctive#Use_of_the_present_subjunctive

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by xime_honey on Wed, 19/08/2020 - 05:37

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I liked this article because it helped me to remember rules of some conditionals and to review this topic that I did not remember very well.

Submitted by Najmiii3579 on Tue, 18/08/2020 - 11:25

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If the member countries would act in concert, the problem might be solved more easily. This does not fit into any of the categories listed above. How is the sentence above different from "If the member countries act in concert, the problem may be solved more easily."? If further improvements can be made, that would be all to the good. Could I say "that will be all to the good" instead? Thank you teachers

Hi Najmiii3579,

  1. If the member countries would act in concert, ...
  2. If the member countries act in concert, ...

These sentences have slightly different meanings. Sentence 1 has the meaning of 'being willing to act', because it includes would. Sentence 2 is just about the action – whether the countries act or don't act. It doesn't say anything about their willingness.

For your second question, yes! You could use will instead of would. There's a slight difference in how the action is presented. If you use will, it's a real and possible consequence. If you use would, it frames the action (that would be all to the good) as hypothetical or imagined (not a real one).

Does that make sense?

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Sir, Thanks for your reply. Regarding the 2nd sentence, if it is presented as a hypothetical situation using "would", why does the writer use the Type 1 instead of the Type 2 Conditional instead?
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Submitted by Jonathan R on Thu, 20/08/2020 - 14:00

In reply to by Najmiii3579

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Hi Najmiii3579,

Even though conditionals are usually taught as Type 1/2/3 structures, in real life speakers often mix these structures, especially in speaking. Was this sentence taken from real life language usage?

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by AkiraTa05 on Mon, 10/08/2020 - 11:41

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Hi Sir, 1. If he is not at work he will be watching the cricket - Could I say "must be watching" instead? 2. I was told that we can use "will", "may" "can" in the main part of the First Conditionals. Can we use "would", "could" and "might"? Thank you.