Conditionals

Definition: The conditional tense says that an action is reliant on something else. The conditionals are used to talk about real or unreal situations, they are sometimes called if-clauses. Real Conditional describes real-life situations. Unreal Conditional describes unreal, imaginary situations.

For example:
If a certain condition is true, then a particular result happens.

If won the lottery, I would travel around the world.
Condition..................verb in the conditional. There are four basic conditionals that we use in English.
  • Zero Conditional
  • First Conditional
  • Second Conditional
  • Third Conditional


  • * There are some more conditionals formed by mixing some of these four.
Structure of Conditional Sentences
The Zero Conditional is used for actions that are always true when the conditions are satisfied. The structure of the conditionals is straightforward. There are two basic possibilities in terms of order in the sentence:

IF Condition Result
If it rains, we will get wet

Result IF Condition
we will get wet If it rains,

* Notice that we only use a comma in the first example.

Conditionals: Time and Probability Table

Probability Conditional Example Time
Certain zero conditional If you heat water to 100 degrees celsius, it boils any time
Likely first conditional If it rains, I will stay in. future
Unlikely second conditional If I won the lottery, I would retire. future
Impossible second conditional If I had the money, I would lend it to you present
Impossible third conditional If I had seen him, I would have given him the message. past

Zero Conditional: Certainty
The Zero conditional is used for things that are always true as long as the condition is met.

Formation: if + present simple, + present simple

IF Condition Result Situation
  present simple present simple  
If you heat water to 100 degrees celsius, it boils. fact- universal
  present simple present simple  
If I drink coffee, I get a headache. fact- personal

In these examples, the result will always occur if the condition is met, so the time is not important.

First Conditional: A real possibility in the future
A First Conditional sentence is for future actions dependent on the result of another future action or event, where there is a reasonable possibility of the conditions for the action being satisfied.

Formation: if + present simple, + will

For example: If she gets good grades, she will go to university.

We are talking about the future, but we use a present tense for the condition and will for the result. In this case, the person is sure about going to university. We can use other modal verbs in the result part of the sentence. For example:

IF Condition Result Possibility

If she gets good grades, she will go to university. If the condition is met, then she definitely will go

If he gets good grades, he may go to university. He is not sure about going to university.

If she gets good grades, she should go to university. The speaker is expressing his or her opinion, giving advice.

If he gets good grades, he can go to university. This means that it is possible.

If she gets good grades, she could go to university. This means that it is possible, but not that likely.
If he gets good grades, he might go to university. This means that it is possible, but not that likely.

We can also use different present forms in the condition part of the sentence like: present simple, present progressive, present perfect, etc

Second Conditional: Imaginary Present or Unlikely Future
The Second Conditional can be used used to talk about imaginary present situations, where we are imagining something different from what is really the case. We can also use it to talk about things in the future that are unlikely to happen, as the condition is unlikely to be met. We use the past tense in the condition part and would for the result.

Formation: if + past simple, + would + base form

For Example: If I were you, I'd tell her.

IF Condition Time Result Possibility
  past simple present WOULD + base verb impossible
If I had the time,   I would learn Italian. I don't have the time, so I'm not going to learn Italian.
  past simple future WOULD + base verb unlikely
If I won the lottery  I would travel around the world. There's a very small chance of winning the lottery, so the trip is unlikely

We can use other modal verbs in the past tense in the result part of the sentence:

IF Condition Result Certainty
 past simple WOULD + base verb  
If I had the time, I would learn Italian. Although unlikely to happen, the speaker is sure that they would do it given the opportunity.
If I had more time, I might learn English. Although unlikely to happen, it is only a possibility anyway.
If I had more time, I should learn some more about IT. Although unlikely to happen, the speaker is saying that it would be a good idea, but is not committed to it.
If I had more time I could learn Hindi. Although unlikely to happen, it is only a possibility anyway.

Third Conditional: Imaginary Past The third conditional is used when we are talking about the past and imagining something different from what actually happened, that means for imaginary past actions, where the conditions for the action WERE NOT satisfied.

Formation: if + past perfect, + would have + past participle

For example: If I had known, I would have helped. I didn't know and didn't help.

IF Condition Result Certainty
  past perfect WOULD HAVE+ past participle  
If I had known, I would have helped. Although this didn't happen, the speaker is sure about the result.
If I had known, I could have helped. Although this didn't happen, the result is only a possibility.
If I had known, I might have helped. Although this didn't happen, the result is only a possibility.
If you had known, you should have helped. Although this didn't happen, it is only a good suggestion or piece of advice.

Third Second Mixed Conditionals For imaginary present actions or situations that are not possible because the necessary conditions were not met in the past.

Formation: if + past perfect, + would + base form

For example:

  • If you had taken the course, you would know about it. (The conditions were not met because the person did not do the course and as a result does not know about it now.)

Second Third Mixed Conditionals To avoid the illogicality of saying 'If I had been you', which means that I was not you on that occasion, but could be in the future, which is, of course, impossible.

Formation: if + past simple, + would have + past participle

For example:

  • If I were you, I wouldn't have done that.

When the first part is still true

For example:

  • If I could speak English, I wouldn't have needed to get the letter translated. (This means that I couldn't speak English then when I needed the translator and still can't)



© 2007-2014 - All Rights Reserved