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 (300 votes)
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Hello Nyenok,

If you want to ask permission to bring a friend, you should use the second sentence (though please note I've made a couple of small corrections):

Would it be all right if I brought a friend?

Even in informal situations with close friends, it is the correct form to use.

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Thanks, Kirk. English grammar explains "Will it be all right if I bring a friend?" (direct), whereas "Would it be all right if I brought a friend?" (Less direct)

Could you explain what' meant by the term "direct" and "less direct?" It's confusing me.

Hello Nyenok,

In the context of making requests or giving advice, in general 'would' is more polite than 'will' because it is considered less direct. I recently explained the difference between 'direct' and 'less direct' in a response to Selet's comment on our 'will' and 'would' page. Please have a look and my response, as I think it will answer your question.

If not, please feel free to write back here.

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by skesha on Thu, 23/11/2023 - 18:49

Permalink

I can't understand why Emily Dickinson uses "unveil" instead of "unveils" where she says, "It yet remains to see if Immortality unveil a third event to me."

Hi skesha,

This seems like the subjunctive, which isn't used as much in modern English as it was in the past. The subjunctive verb form indicates something unreal (e.g. imagined or hypothetical). It has the same verb form as the base verb, including for he/she/it (e.g. the subjunctive form of "go" is "go", for all persons). That's why Emily Dickinson's sentence has "unveil" rather than "unveil". It does sound unusual to our modern ears, though.

Here are a couple of structure with which the subjunctive is still used in modern English.

  • It's important that he see a doctor right away.
  • The teacher requires that she hand in the homework on time.
  • My recommendation is that the matter be investigated.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by whitekrystal on Sun, 12/11/2023 - 07:40

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Which one should I say in the following?

If you give some context or examples, it will be easier to asnwer.

If you gave some context or examples, it would be easier to asnwer

Hello whitekrystal,

Both are fine.

The first one sounds more encouraging to me as it implies that the speaker/writer expects examples ("Please do this and I will help"). The second suggests that the speaker does not expect any examples and might be advice for the future ("Next time please do this"). In certain contexts the second could even be interpreted as criticism ("Here's the problem with your question").

However, these are questions of tone, context and interpretation rather than grammar.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Gendeng on Thu, 26/10/2023 - 03:16

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What is the difference?
It will be expensive to stay in a hotel.
It would be expensive to stay in a hotel.

Hello Gendeng,

The difference here is whether the speaker is talking about a real situation (the first sentence) or a more hypothetical one (the second).

You might use the first if the plan has already been made and you are pointing out a fact that will not change. The second is more likely when the plan is still under discussion. However, these are nuances rather than fixed grammar rules and are context-dependent.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team