Conditionals

“If it rains then you could get wet.”

“If you had exercised then you would have felt tired at work.”

“I will eat food if I am hungry.”

These are all examples of conditionals. In English, conditionals are used when we want to say what will / could happen, what might have happened (if things had been done differently), and what we want to happen. These sentences often use the words ‘if‘, ‘then‘ & ‘unless‘. There are 5 types of conditional sentences in English:-

  1. zero
  2. first
  3. second
  4. third
  5. mixed

Conditional sentences are made up of 2 parts:-

If clause + Main clause

If clauses are a potential cause. The main clause is the thing that happens (or can happen) as a result of the If clause.

Zero conditional

The zero conditional is used for situations that are always true. When this type of sentence is used, the time is in the present or always and we use the simple present tense (in both clauses).

If clause + Main clause
If + simple present + simple present
  • If the sun goes down it gets dark.
  • If you freeze water it turns into ice.
  • The ground gets wet if it rains.

First conditional

The first conditional is used for situations that are real and possible (but not always definite). When it is used, the time is the present or anytime and we have to use the simple present tense again for the if clause and the simple future tense for the main clause.

If clause + Main clause
If + simple present + simple future
  • If I work very hard then I can earn a lot of money.
  • If I am free tomorrow then I will visit my friend.
  • I will buy some more food if my fridge is empty.

Second conditional

The second conditional is used for situations that are unreal or unlikely. It is also used in the present or future. We have to use the simple past tense for the if clause and the present conditional for the main clause.

If clause + Main clause
If + simple past + present conditional
  • If I had a lot of money then I would be very happy.
  • If I travelled more then I would be more cultured.
  • I would be very famous if I was an actor.

Third conditional

The third conditional is used for situations that didn’t happen in the past and their imaginary results. We have to use the past perfect tense for the if clause and the perfect conditional for the main clause.

If clause + Main clause
If + past perfect + perfect conditional
  • If I had trained more then I would have won the competition.
  • If I had woken up earlier then I wouldn’t have been late.
  • I would have been very famous if I had invented the telephone.

Mixed conditional

The mixed conditional is when we use multiple conditionals and mix them together. For example we could combine the second and third conditional to make the following sentences:-

  • If I had worked more then I would still be employed.
  • If I had eaten less then I wouldn’t be fat now.
  • I would be very happy if I had done that.

Practise exercise

Fill in the gap for each sentence:-

If I had studied German more, I ... been able to speak to more people at the party.
If you have two apples and I have five apples then we ... seven apples.
If I had a pound for every time you said that I ... rich!
I ... a new TV if I have enough money.
Smoke ... produced if wood is burned.
If I had won the lottery I ... moved to another country.
If I study a lot I ... improve.
I ... outside if it is sunny today.
I ... if the other team hadn't cheated.
If I ate less I ... thinner.