Grammar: Conditionals in English

Published 05/08/2015 In Blog


Conditional sentences can be sometimes confusing for English learners. So hopefully this post will help you understand how we construct the four types of condional sentences that exist. 


Conditional sentences are also called 'If clauses' and we use different types of tenses to construct them: 


1. Zero Conditionals

If + Present Simple, ... Present Simple

Example: If you heat water to 100 degrees, it boils.


We use this type of conditional structure when we want to talk about something that is always true, a fact

Note that the 'if' in this conditional can usually be replaced by 'when' and it doesn't change the meaning. 



2. The First Conditional 

If + Present Simple, ... will + infinitive

Example: If the weather is good tomorrow, I will go to the beach


This conditional is used to talk about things that can possibly come true in the future


The difference between the Zero Conditional and the First Conditional is that the Zero Conditional describes what happens in general, whereas the First Conditional talks about a particular situation. 



* If you stay in the beach too long without any suncream, you burn (In this case this Zero Conditional sentence is talking about a fact. Many people get burned if they are exposed to the sun for a long period of time without any protection)


But! If you say: If you stay in the beach too long without any sun cream, you will burn (In this First Conditional sentence I am talking about something that will happen today. It might not be sunny tomorrow)



3. Second Conditional

If + past simple, ... would + infinitive

Example: If I won the lottery, I would buy a house in the countryside 


This type of conditional has two different uses:

a) We use the second conditional to talk about things that are not probably going to happen in the future. 



Example: If I was a famous actress, I would not make my private life public. (highly improbable that I going to become a famous actress!)


*Note that in this conditional we can use 'were' instead of 'was' with 'I' and 'he/she/it' in formal writing situations. 



b) We also use the Second Conditional to talk about something in the present which is impossible

If I had battery on my phone, I would call my mother (I don't have battery on my phone, so therefore it's impossible for me to make a call)



So what is the difference with the First Conditional then?

The main difference with the First Conditional is that it is a lot more unlikely that it will happen. Take for example: 


a) If I have money, I will go on holiday to Greece (This First Conditional sentence means that it could happen)


b) If I had money, I would go on holiday to Greece (This Second Conditional sentence means that if it is very unlikely that I will have enough money to go anywhere)



4. Third Conditional


 If + past perfect, ...would + have + past participle


The third conditional is used to talk about the past and to refer to something that did not happen. 


Examples: If I had saved more money, I would have gone to Greece on holiday (I did not save enough money, so therefore I stayed at home)

                If Mary had studied more, she would have passed her final exam (Mary was lazy and did not study enough, so now she has to repeat the whole course again)


Click on the poster above and save it in to your desktop for future reference! 


Hopefully this article, will have helped you to understand how we construct conditional sentences in English. If you still have questions, please don't hesitate contacting me at:

conditionals in english zero conditional first conditional second conditional third conditional conditionals english grammar

contact | any questions?

Contact details

Message information

Validate that you are not a robot