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

Average: 4.1 (359 votes)
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.

Thanks a lot for the explanation, Jonathan. I'm a little bit confused. As you have explained that "If you used the second conditional as a commentator in that culture, it might seem inappropriate because you would be assuming that United have little or no chance of winning, which might be perceived as a biased or non-neutral opinion". In the following sentence, Manchester United take a 32nd minute 1-0 lead, then the commentator/journalist uses the second conditional "would" in this case. Does the commentator think Manchester United still don't have a chance of winning though they're in the lead?

Leicester 0-1 Man Utd (32 mins) A win tonight would take Manchester United up to fifth in the Premier League table.

Shouldn't it instead be "A win tonight will take Manchester United...?"

Hi Plokonyo,

That bit of information, about United being a goal ahead, changes my interpretation. Here, "would" shows that the win is not yet likely or ensured. The speaker is showing that although United are currently winning, there is a reasonable chance of the situation changing before the end of the match.

When I read the sentences in your previous message, I imagined them being said before the beginning of a match, without having any particular reason to think that one team or another would win or lose. What I wanted to say in that comment was that comparatively, the 'would' version is sometimes used to express relatively more doubt.

As I think we've discussed before, the context provides information that helps us to make and understand meanings, e.g., who is speaking? Who is he/she speaking to? What is his/her role? What is the situation in the game? What else is said in the conversation? What do we know about the relative strengths of the two teams? These might all affect whether we choose "will" or "would", among other things. If we only see the person's words alone, they are not always easy to interpret!

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks a lot, Jonathan. This is kind of confusing. It means the second conditional has two interpretations, doesn't it? If it's said before the beginning of a match, it's happening now, it means it's used to imagine a present/future situations impossible or unlikely.
When the game is underway, the commentator is speaking live, then does the second conditional express a doubt/describe what might happen?
There is a reasonable chance of the situation changing before the end of the match.

Man Utd 1-0 Liverpool (32 mins)
If Man Utd won, it would put them in second place

In live commentary, the commentator is speaking live, what do native speakers use to describe/see the situation -- first conditional or second conditional?

Hi Plokonyo,

Yes, the second conditional does have nuances in its meaning, but its general meaning is that the situation can be reasonably doubted to happen. It’s also relevant that your previous example that I commented on was "A win tonight would take Manchester United up to fifth in the Premier League table." This has only a "would" clause, no "if" clause, so it naturally focuses more on the (un)certainty of the end result, rather than the condition.

I’ve already commented that the use of the first or second conditional depends on several things, so I don’t think it’s possible to make a general statement such as “commentators say X”, which is bound to contradicted by other examples. There will be variation in what commentators say and mean, and both conditionals will be used. Also, we risk focusing perhaps too much on differences in meaning/usage that are hard to identify clearly, and missing the possibly more useful point that both the first and second conditional may be acceptable in the situation.

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks a lot for the explanation, Jonathan. So when "would" (no "if" clause) is turned into a type 2 conditional sentence, it will have a different nuance, right?

Leicester 0-1 Man Utd (32 mins) A win tonight would take Manchester United up to fifth in the Premier League table. Here, no "if" clause, it means this naturally focuses more on the (un)certainty of the end result, rather than the condition.

However, if I turn the sentence into a type 2 conditional sentence, it would indicate an impossible or unlikely situation.

32 mins: Leicester 0-1 Man Utd
If Man Utd won today, it would take them up to fifth in the Premier League table.

Is my understanding right? What do you think?

Submitted by Robertas on Sat, 10/09/2022 - 03:52

Permalink

Hi,

These examples are from Second Conditional:
"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".

Which of these sentences are used for present and future?

Thank you for answers.
Best Regards,
Robertas

Hi Robertas,

All of these sentences can refer to the present or future. They all describe hypothetical or unlikely situations; whether they are about a hypothetical/counter-factual present or an unlikely or impossible future will depend upon the context in which they are used.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Liam_Kurt on Sat, 03/09/2022 - 14:24

Permalink

Hello learn english team
I have a question
I noticed there were 3 main conditionals: present real, present imaginary and past imaginary.
Is there a past real conditionals. For example: If he had enough money he bought the car
It is not imaginary since we don't know if he did have enough money but there's also a real chance he did and bought the car

Hello Liam_Kurt,

I'm not familiar with those names for the different combinations of forms that teachers often call 'first conditional' (and so on), but, following the logic of the other names, what you say makes sense, and that sentence is grammatically correct and means what you said.

'if' can be used not only in these structures with these verb forms; it can also be used with any other verb form that communicates an idea that makes sense. That's probably why you've never seen this particular one described in a special way anywhere.

Hope that makes sense.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team