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 (372 votes)
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Submitted by Kirk Moore on Thu, 02/04/2020 - 14:01

In reply to by adawi


Hello adawl

Yes, that is correct. You can say 'were' with any pronoun and 'was' with 'I', 'he', 'she' or 'it'. 

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Gloria Pérez on Mon, 30/03/2020 - 13:28

A new doubt. This time about the first conditional: We have studied different ways of expressing future apart from using "will": present continuous, to be going to, may, might... Of course, these forms involve different nuances from "will" in terms of likehood (ranging from 100% certainty to remote posibility). With this in mind, how likely it is that the result happens if the condition occurs, can we use these other forms of future in the first conditional too?? Examples: "If I get some days off next week... - ... I am visiting my grandma" (or "I will definitively visit my grandma") ? - ... I am going to visit my grandma (or "I will most likely visit my grandma")? - ... I may visit my grandma (or "maybe I will visit my grandma")? Thank you very much again for your help to clear this.

Hello again Gloria

Yes, you can use other ways of speaking about the future or possible actions in the second clause -- your clauses with 'will definitely', 'will most likely', 'maybe I will', 'I am going to visit' and 'I may visit' are all correct.

It would perhaps be a little unusual to use the present simple for a timetabled event or the present continuous for an arranged event (since presumably we don't make arrangements for events we aren't sure we can perform), but it is certainly possible to use them if they accurately reflect what you mean.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Gloria Pérez on Mon, 30/03/2020 - 12:56

A doubt about conditional zero: I see that the structure if/when past simple >> past simple can not be used. Therefore, the following sentences must be wrong: "When I was a child... - ... my father used to tell me off when/if I got late home" or - ... I had to study in summer if/when I didn't pass my exams in June". If so, is they are wrong, would the right ones be as following?: "When I was a child... - "... my father used to tell me off If/when I had got home late" - "... I had to study in summer if/when I hadn't passed my exams in June" Thank you very much in advance for heping me to clarify this point.

Hello Gloria

For the sake of simplicity, just one zero conditional structure is provided on this page. But, as you have discovered, that doesn't mean that other combinations do not exist. As you have done, it is perfectly correct to use past tense to speak about past situations. The past perfect versions you wrote are also correct, though most of the time people would use the simpler versions.

Textbooks and teachers often use the terms 'zero', 'first', 'second' and 'third' conditional to refer to common patterns to help students recognise and produce them, but they are not really proper grammatical categories and do not describe all possible forms.

I hope this helps you.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Bharati on Sun, 23/02/2020 - 09:22

Hello, Isn't it a matter of individual perception to understand the use of "will" in a sentence to be conveying either a present tiime or future time when no specific future time is given. Example: He will always/never be grateful (Here the time could be cosidered to be starting from present continuinh upto future) Thanks

Submitted by Bharati on Sat, 22/02/2020 - 13:24

Thanks Peter My doubt about the example sentence given by me remains as you assume that if it rains depicts future whereas it (rain) can be assumed to happen in present time also. Even the result clause (i will use an umbrella) can happen in present besides the future possibility of rain. Please clarify. I have no doubt about zero conditional example given by you. Thanks

Hello Bharati,

In your example, the speaker has not taken the umbrella at the time of speaking. Therefore, the action must be in the future, relative to the time of speaking.



The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Peter, Thanks for explaining. So, do we take that first conditional always talks about future and not about present also as understood by me. In the example, "if you drop the glass, it will break"what times are referred by the if clause and the consequence clause. Thanks

Hello Bharati,

Generally, the result clause of a first conditional structure has a future time reference. However, you can also use will to describe typical behaviour or consequences, especially when you want to point out to someone that they should have known something, or should not have been surprised about something. For example:

I can't believe my car has broken down again!

Well, if you don't service cars they will break down. What do you expect?

Here, the speaker is talking about the typical behaviour of cars, not a specific single action in the future.


Your sentence about the glass could, in the right context be read either way. I don't think your earlier example about umbrellas could, however, as the speaker then was referring to him/herself and a particular situation rather than predicting his/her own typical behaviour.



The LearnEnglish Team