Conditionals 1

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

Do you need to improve your English grammar?
Join thousands of learners from around the world who are improving their English grammar with our online courses.
Average: 4 (20 votes)

Hi Robertas,

The first conditional structure usually has "will" or "won't" in the main clause, but not always. Other structures and words may be used if they give the idea of a future action, just like "want to stay" in the first example. "You can go to the party" also gives permission for a future action.

We can also use "may" and "might" if the future action is possible but not yet certain (e.g. "I might stay in London if I get a well-paid job").

I hope that helps to understand it.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi again,

I am little bit confused. Don't you think it is confusing sometimes to use present tense when you talk about future? In my opinion, we perfectly could use future tense which would clear all confusions. I understand "as soon as" indicates future, but changing to "arrives" to "will arrive" as well could be more correct use which would clear all confusions. These examples gives idea about what I am asking:
" I'll leave as soon as the babysitter arrives. "
" I don't want to stay in London unless I get a well-paid job "

Hello Robertas,

I can't say that it is confusing as a native speaker - it feels perfectly natural to me! Language develops organically through use in a community and it's not the case that linguistic rules or standards are handed down by some authority, so the way the language works is a reflection of what suits its users.

 

I think part of the problem is that you see 'will' as future tense. English has no future tense, linguistically speaking. Instead of a particular verb form, we use a range of different devices. Sometimes we use a present form, sometimes we use a past form, sometimes we use a lexical construction and sometimes we use a modal verb like 'will'. In many sentences you can replace 'will' with other modals:

I'll leave as soon as the babysitter arrives.

I might leave as soon as the babysitter arrives.

I should leave as soon as the babysitter arrives.

I must leave as soon as the babysitter arrives.

(etc)

 

Verb forms in English are not always about time. The second form (past simple in traditional terminology) is really about distance, which may be distance in terms of time (past time is distant from the present) but may also be distant in terms of reality (hypothetical meaning is distant from reality), social distance (politeness is a form of social distancing) and so on. In this analysis, the first form shows closeness, the second form distance, the -ing form shows that something is in progress in some way and the third form is retrospective (looking backwards). When you view the English verb system in this way (which is the generally accepted approach amongst modern linguists) exceptions like the use of the past simple for future meaning cease to be exceptions and become simply another expression of the core concept of distance.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Robertas on Sat, 20/08/2022 - 17:53

Permalink

Hi everyone. Can someone help with future's conditional? I mean I would like to ask about both clauses that are hypothetical. I picked example from Conditional 2. I would write it like this to speak about future: "If she would be prime minister, she would invest more money in schools". Am I correct here?

Hi Robertas,

The correct form here is 'If she were...'

Generally, we do not use modal verbs in the if-clause of hypothetical constructions to express unreality. Rather, we move the time reference backwards, so we use a past form ('If she were...') to talk about the present or future, and a past perfect form ('If she had been...') to talk about the past.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi,

I guess kind of same question I asked 10 minutes applies here as well but including rules with modal verbs (hypothetical clauses in future) as the only difference. Don't you think it is confusing to use only past tense in hypothetical clause? This contravenes for modal verbs use in hypothetical situation. That situation is hypothetical but we use only past tense, this is what confuses me. To be even more clear, it is like if you don't know that there can be such strange structure, I would get lost in understanding about what people have in mind.

Thank you for explanation in advance.
Regards,
Robertas

Hello again Robertas,

Please see my earlier answer, which is also applicable to this question.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Austeja on Fri, 19/08/2022 - 21:10

Permalink

Hello, what warmer activities can be used teaching first conditional?

Hello Austeja,

LearnEnglish is a site for learners rather than teachers, so how-to-teach questions are not something we deal with. However, we do have a sister-site designed for teachers. You can find it here:

https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/

You can find a lot of resources for teaching there, and also use the social media links to ask your question.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by thebaongoc on Tue, 09/08/2022 - 16:04

Permalink

I have a question that is unless used in all 3 three conditional sentences or the
first conditional