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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Language level

Submitted by amynghiem on Tue, 18/01/2022 - 05:18

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Dear team,
Please let me know if I use the right conditional here:
The soil doesn't dry out if you water the plants regularly

-> In my understanding since the action of "watering plants so it doesn't dry out" is an obvious fact so I use zero conditional but I'm reluctant between zero conditional and first conditional here

Please help me out
Thank you

Hello amynghiem,

If you want to say something that is true in many different situations, the zero conditional would be best: 'The soil doesn't dry out if you water plants regularly'.

If you want to speak about a specific situation -- for example when you are giving instructions to someone who is going to take care of your plants while you are away -- then a first conditional is generally better: 'The soil won't dry out if you water the plants regularly'.

Hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Kirk,
Thank you for your answer
For me, I find it's difficult to decide which conditionals should be use in certain situation. For example:
- If he cleaned his house more often, his friends would have visited him more often -> This sentence I'm using mixed conditional Present/Past to express a present situation result a past consequence
but I could also use
- If he cleaned his house more often, his friends would visit him more often -> I'm using Second Conditional to imagine a future situations that are impossible at the moment of speaking.

I know this might be a broad question but Do you have any advice to help english learners choose the right conditional when they speak ?

Thank you

Hello amynghiem,

I have two suggestions. The first one is for when you're using English to communicate in an authentic situation and the second one is more for the English classroom or exams.

1) In real life, the conditional we use expresses our perspective. Imagine that our colleague Charlie is very messy and no one wants to visit his house. We've known him for several years and know that he wishes his friends would visit him more often. In this case, we're thinking about his present situation, as well as his future, and so your second sentence would make the most sense because we view any change to his situation as unlikely.

Now imagine the same situation with one difference: Charlie has made a resolution to keep his house clean. And in fact we and a couple of his friends even helped him clean it one weekend and now all he has to do is maintain it. If we spoke about his situation now, a first conditional would be more appropriate because the situation is different. We see it as much more likely that his friends visit: 'If he keeps his house clean, his friends will visit'. All of what I've explained so far has to do with using conditionals in a real situation; as you can see, the whole situations informs our choice of a conditional.

2) In English class or on exams, a well-written question should make the context clear enough. Normally what you have to pay most attention to are the other verb forms used in a sentence in order to, for example, fill in a gap or complete a sentence.

If you're expected to complete a sentence where the context isn't clear, then I'd suggest asking the teacher. It's more difficult than people realise to write good questions and all teachers make mistakes from time to time.

Does that help you any?

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Selet on Sun, 05/12/2021 - 00:25

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I still don't really understand what the meaning of "unlikely" in a second conditional is. For instance:

If Manchester United won today, they would go top of the league.

People explain this sentence suggests that the speaker thinks it unlikely.

Could you tell me what "unlikely" is?

Hello Selet,

'Unlikely' describes how the speaker sees the situation. For example, both of these sentences are possible:

1. If Manchester United win today, they will go top of the league.
2. If Manchester United won today, they would go top of the league.

In sentence 1, the speaker believes that there is a real chance of Manchester United winning. This is the sort of thing an optimistic fan might say.

In sentence 2, the speaker does not believe that Manchester United will win. They are imagining the alternative but they think it is unlikely to happen.

The key is to remember that we are talking about the speaker's perspective, not an objective fact. For example, objectively there is little chance of anyone winning the lottery, so the logical way to talk about it is like this:
> If I won the lottery, I would buy a new house.

However, people are not always logical! If someone is a crazy optimist who believes that they are going to win then they might say this:
> If I win the lottery, I'll buy a new house.

They could even make it more certain by using 'when':
> When I win the lottery, I'll buy a new house.

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks, Peter. This sentence is writen before the match, so when I'm sure that Man Utd will not win the game, we would say "if Man Utd won today, they would go top of the league". Am I right?

Submitted by Crokong on Sat, 06/11/2021 - 07:28

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What is the difference between the following sentence?

46' The game is back underway at Old Trafford!
It would be a surprise if the game stayed at 2-1, with both sides desperate for the three points.

46' The game is back underway at Old Trafford!
It will be a surprise if the game stays at 2-1, with both sides desperate for the three points.

Hello Crokong,

There's no significant difference in meaning here. The first one talks about the possibility of the game staying at 2-1 as more hypothetical, but in both cases the announcer thinks it likely that another goal will be scored.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, Kirk. I'm confused what I should express in a particular situation if there is no difference of meaning in the above sentences, This game is going on, so what should I use a past + will or a past + would?

It will be staggering if this game remains goalless.
It would be staggering if this game finished goalless.

My book says the form with a past + would expresses doubt. So, my opinion is that it may depend on how the commentator sees the situation. If both teams are playing safe and don't make a lot of attacks, obviously there will not be a goal scored, then the structure of "would + past" is appropriate, perhaps.

While the form with a will + present conveys certatinty. The commentor watching is sure that both teams are not playing seriously and both want the game to end in a stalemate.

Is my understanding right?

Hello Crokong,

I'm sorry -- this is something that's really difficult to explain. I appreciate that you are trying your best to understand this by really focusing on the details, and so I'll try to explain it again, but I would really recommend you read and listen and try to figure out how these forms work by seeing them in context. That's what you're doing here, which is great; I think the more you read and listen and find forms such as these in context, the more you'll understand them.

The point is that you can use either sentence to talk about the same match. Using a past form and 'would' suggests you see it with more distance -- it's more hypothetical -- but in both cases the match is going on in front of you, so in that sense there's no difference in meaning.

Although some explain this sort of grammar in terms of certainty or uncertainty, I don't think that's a good way to approach it because it can make it easier to forget that it's all about how the speaker sees the situation and positions him- or herself in relation to it.

I hope this helps!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by bloody_kary on Tue, 12/10/2021 - 05:43

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Hello!
Could you tell me please which verb I should use in this sentence in the subordinate clause: was/were?
It there were/was much snow, we'd go skiing.

Hello bloody_kary,

Both forms are possible here in modern English. In the past, 'were' (a subjunctive form) was preferred, but this is not the case in modern English and you can use either form.

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello bloody_kary,

Yes, both are correct in modern English.

I think the sentence could be improved in another way, however. We generally avoid using 'much' in affirmative sentences. Another quantifier such as 'a lot of', 'lots', 'plenty of', 'a good deal of' etc would be a better (more natural) choice here.

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by GiulianaAndy on Thu, 15/07/2021 - 00:28

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Hello, awesome lesson. However I have a question, here you go: In the grammar test 1 is it possible to write down a comma before the if clause I got confused because of these sentences: 1) I would study English Every Day if I had time (There's no comma before the if clause) 2) We'll be late for the film, if we don't hurry up (There's a comma before the if clause) And also, I would like to know this: Is there always a comma before the clause in the sentence witch is not the "if" one?

Hello GiulianaAndy,

Thanks for your feedback!

The general rules are to 1) put a comma after the 'if' clause when the 'if' clause comes first, and 2) not put a comma before the 'if' clause when the 'if' clause comes second. These two sentences, for example, show the normal punctuation:

If it rains tomorrow, I'll take the car.
I'll take the car if it rains tomorrow.

There can be exceptions to this rule and you did a good job noticing the comma in question 3 in the first task. Sometimes we use a comma here to indicate a slight pause in the sentence, but most of the time it's best not to write it.

Since it's more common for the comma not to be there, I've removed it from the sentence 3 in Task 1. I'm sorry if it caused you any confusion!

Thanks for again for your feedback!

Best wishes,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Submitted by Natasa Tanasa on Tue, 22/06/2021 - 12:58

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Hello everyone, I would like to know if the next sentence is the correct one: "How will you get there if your flight is cancelled?" Thank you so much in advance!

Hi Natasa Tanasa,

Yes! It's correct :)

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by beckysyto on Sun, 20/06/2021 - 09:52

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Hi Which of the following sentences are correct? (1) I could go into a chocolate factory and eat a lot of chocolate if no one WAS able to see me. (2) I could go into a chocolate factory and eat a lot of chocolate if no one WERE able to see me. If subjunctive verbs are used, should indefinite pronouns go with "was" or "were"? Why? Thanks a lot.

Submitted by Kirk on Sun, 20/06/2021 - 14:57

In reply to by beckysyto

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Hello beckysyto,

Both of the sentences are correct. We use singular verb forms with 'no one', but 'were' is still correct here for a different reason.

In older English, the only correct verb form here was a past subjunctive, and the past subjunctive of 'be' is 'were'. We still use this old form in a few structures (such as the second conditional), and that is why 'were' is also considered correct here.

As I'm sure you've noticed, 'was' is also accepted as correct -- it acts as a kind of modern subjunctive in a way.

Does that make sense?

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Wed, 09/06/2021 - 11:47

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Hello. Is the following sentence correct? If not, why. Fast food is great unless you eat too much of it. Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

Yes, that sentence is fine. You could also say '...as long as you don't eat too much...' with the same meaning.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by lean on Sat, 22/05/2021 - 10:33

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Hello :-) I saw you use (have to use) present simple too in main clause, if you use "unless", "as long as", "as soon as" or "in case" instead of if for the first conditional. If I were you, I'd correct the common rule for the first conditional (if/when + present simple >> will + infinitive. ) :-))))))))))))))))))))) Best regards

Submitted by Kirk on Sat, 22/05/2021 - 14:34

In reply to by lean

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Hello lean,

Thanks for your suggestion. We actually considered that, but decided to try to keep the page simple and so did not include that information. 

Thanks again!

Best wishes,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ayn on Mon, 15/03/2021 - 06:12

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A)Unless people stick to their diets, they will face obesity problems more than ever. B)Unless people stick to their diets, they face obesity problems more than ever. Which looks correct?

Hello Ayn,

I would recommend that you not use 'unless' here. 'unless' means something like 'if ... not', but only when it expresses an idea like 'except if'. If we reword the sentence as 'Except if people stick to their diets ...', it seems awkward.

In comparison, 'If people do not stick to their diets' seems more straightforward to me, and in this case you could say 'they face' to refer to a generally-known fact or 'they will face' to make a prediction.

I'd recommend you have a look at this Cambridge Grammar page on Unless, which has lots of useful example sentences.

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Since I'm predicting they will face obesity more than ever, should I use first conditional?

Hello Ayn,

Yes, the first conditional would be better if you are making a prediction.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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 gsg238 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 gsg238 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?

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?

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