Do you know how to use the zero, first and second conditional?

Conditionals are sentences with two clauses – an ‘if clause and a main clause – that are closely related. Conditional sentences are often divided into different types.


Zero conditional

We use the zero conditional to talk about things that are always true.

  • If you heat water, it boils.
  • When the sun goes down, it gets dark.
  • It lights up if you push that button.

The present simple is used in both clauses.

First conditional

We use the first conditional when we talk about real and possible situations.

  • I’ll go shopping on the way home if I have time.
  • If it’s a nice day tomorrow, we’ll go to the beach.
  • If Arsenal win, they’ll be top of the league.

In first conditional sentences, the structure is usually if + present simple and will + infinitive. It’s not important which clause comes first.

Second conditional

The second conditional is used to talk about ‘unreal’ or impossible things.

  • If I won a lot of money, I’d buy a big house in the country.
  • Where would you live if you could live anywhere in the world?
  • If you didn’t smoke so much, you’d feel a lot better.

The structure is usually if + past simple and would + infinitive. It’s not important which clause comes first.

Look at the difference between the first and second conditionals.

  • In January: If it snows tomorrow, I’ll go skiing. It might snow tomorrow.
  • In August: If it snowed tomorrow, I’d go skiing. It almost certainly won’t snow tomorrow.

NOTE: Although many conditional sentences use if + will/would, conditional sentences can also use other words instead of ‘if’ – e.g. ‘when’ ‘as soon as’ ‘in case’ Other modal verbs can be used instead of ‘will/would’ – e.g. ‘can/could’, ‘may’ ‘might’.

Other types of conditional sentences are covered in another section.


Language level

Intermediate: B1