Conditionals in english

24/01/2021

Conditionals, also known as ‘if clauses’, describe a certain condition and its result. They can either describe real and possible situations (zero & first conditionals), or unreal (hypothetical / imaginary) situations (second, third & mixed conditionals).

Conditional sentences consist of two clauses: 

 

The  if clause which includes the condition:  If I have time

and the main clause which includes the result:  I will help you

 

The order of the clauses does not change the meaning. 

 

If I have time, I will help you. = I will help you if I have time. 

 

It is also possible to use this structure with some other words instead of if, such as: unless, as long as, when, as soon as, or in case.

 

I will help you as long as I have time.

 

Types of Conditionals

There are four types of conditionals in the English language: zero, first, second, and third. We can also mix second and third conditionals to form a mixed conditional.

Zero Conditional

We use the zero conditional to talk about things that are generally true. This can include scientific facts, as well as observations based on personal experience.

 

The structure is: If + present simple,  present simple.

 

If I don’t drink coffee in the morning, I feel sleepy all day.

 

Water boils if it is heated to 100°C.

 

First Conditional

We use the first conditional when we talk about future situations which are possible. 

The structure is usually: If + present simple, will + infinitive. 

 

 

If you don’t wear a jacket, you’ll feel cold.

 

We’ll go to the beach if it doesn’t rain.

 

Second Conditional

We use the second conditional for present or future situations that are unreal, impossible, or at least, unlikely to happen. We also use the second conditional to give advice.

 

The structure is: If + past simple, would + infinitive. 

 

With the verb to be, we can either use was or were with singular pronouns (I / he / she / it). This is because unreal conditionals use the subjunctive mood (whereas real conditionals use the indicative mood). For example:

 

If I were you, I wouldn’t buy this car.

 

I would call her and apologize if I were you.

 

Other examples of the second conditional include:

 

We would travel more if we had more money. 

 

If she saw a snake, she would scream.

 

Third Conditional

The third conditional is used to talk about unreal or imaginary situations in the past that did not happen. These situations are always impossible, and are often used to express regret.

 

The structure is: If + past perfect, would + have + past participle. 

 

If we had taken a taxi, we would have arrived on time. (Reality: We didn’t take a taxi, so we didn’t arrive on time.)

 

She would have passed the exam if she had studied harder. (Reality: She didn’t study hard, so she didn’t pass the exam.

 

Mixed Conditional

The mixed conditional is used for unreal conditions in the past and their probable (although unreal / impossible) result in the present. 

 

The structure is: If + past perfect, would + infinitive. 

 

If I had studied English in high school, I would have more job opportunities now. (Reality: I didn’t study  English in high school, so now I don’t have many job opportunities.)

 

If  they hadn’t missed their flight, they would be in Miami now. (Reality: They missed their flight, so they aren’t in Miami now.)

In Summary

Real conditionals (zero & first) are used to describe real and possible situations, such as scientific facts, or likely outcomes based on personal experience or common sense (If I go outside while it’s raining I will get wet).

 

Unreal conditionals (second, third & mixed) are used to describe unreal and impossible situations, such as hypothetical and imaginary situations, as well as regretful situations where we wish that we (or someone else) had done something differently (If you had watered the plants they wouldn’t have died).

 

 

Do you think that you can form a real and an unreal conditional? Try posting one in the comments below!

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Test your knowledge

1st, 2nd and 3rd conditionals

1 / 10

1. I ___ (help) you if I have time.

2 / 10

2. I ___ (buy) a house if I had enough money.

3 / 10

3. I ___ (pass) the test if I had studied harder.

4 / 10

4. If I were you, I ___ (forgive) her.

5 / 10

5. If I can't come, I ___ (call) you.

6 / 10

6. If I ___ (sleep) better last night, I wouldn't have been so tired this morning.

7 / 10

7. If he had more money, he ___ (travel) more.

8 / 10

8. If I ___ (not get) this job, I wouldn't have moved to Spain.

9 / 10

9. If I ___ (have) time, I'll clean the apartment.

10 / 10

10. If my parents lived closer, I ___ (see) them more often.

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