Grammar Made Easy

Subtitle

English Conditionals

 

English Conditionals

There are several structures in English that are called conditionals.

"Condition" means "situation or circumstance". If a particular condition is true, then a particular result happens.

  • If y = 10 then 2y = 20
  • If y = 3 then 2y = 6

There are three basic conditionals that we use very often. There are some more conditionals that we do not use so often.

In this lesson, we will look at the three basic conditionals as well as the so-called zero conditional. We'll finish with a quiz to check your understanding.

Conditional Sentences are also known as Conditional Clauses or If Clauses. They are used to express that the action in the main clause (without if) can only take place if a certain condition (in the clause with if) is fulfilled. There are three types of Conditional Sentences.

Tip:

People sometimes call conditionals "IF" structures or sentences, because there is usually (but not always) the word "if" in a conditional sentence.

Structure of Conditional Sentences

The structure of most conditionals is very simple. There are two basic possibilities. Of course, we add many words and can use various tenses, but the basic structure is usually like this:

IF

condition

result

IF

y = 10

2y = 20

or like this:

result

IF

condition

2y = 20

IF

y = 10

 

First Conditional: real possibility

We are talking about the future. We are thinking about a particular condition or situation in the future, and the result of this condition. There is a real possibility that this condition will happen.

Conditional Sentence Type 1

→ It is possible and also very likely that the condition will be fulfilled.

Form: if + Simple Present, will-Future

Example: If I find her address, I’ll send her an invitation.

 

For example, it is morning. You are at home. You plan to play tennis this afternoon. But there are some clouds in the sky. Imagine that it rains. What will you do?

IF

condition

result

 

present simple

WILL + base verb

If

it rains

I will stay at home.

Notice that we are thinking about a future condition. It is not raining yet. But the sky is cloudy and you think that it could rain. We use the present simple tense to talk about the possible future condition. We use WILL + base verb to talk about the possible future result. The important thing about the first conditional is that there is a real possibility that the condition will happen. Here are some more examples (do you remember the two basic structures: [IF condition result] and [result IF condition]?):

IF

condition

result

 

present simple

WILL + base verb

If

I see Mary

I will tell her.

If

Tara is free tomorrow

he will invite her.

If

they do not pass their exam

their teacher will be sad.

If

it rains tomorrow

will you stay at home?

If

it rains tomorrow

what will you do?

 

result

IF

condition

WILL + base verb

 

present simple

I will tell Mary

if

I see her.

He will invite Tara

if

she is free tomorrow.

Their teacher will be sad

if

they do not pass their exam.

Will you stay at home

if

it rains tomorrow?

What will you do

if

it rains tomorrow?

 

Form

if + Simple Present, will-Future

Example: If I find her address, I will send her an invitation.

The main clause can also be at the beginning of the sentence. In this case, don't use a comma.

Example: I will send her an invitation if I find her address.

Note: Main clause and / or if clause might be negative. See Simple Present und will-Future on how to form negative sentences.

Example: If I don’t see him this afternoon, I will phone him in the evening.

Use

Conditional Sentences Type I refer to the future. An action in the future will only happen if a certain condition is fulfilled by that time. We don't know for sure whether the condition actually will be fulfilled or not, but the conditions seems rather realistic – so we think it is likely to happen.

Example: If I find her address, I’ll send her an invitation.

I want to send an invitation to a friend. I just have to find her address. I am quite sure, however, that I will find it.

Example: If John has the money, he will buy a Ferrari.

I know John very well and I know that he earns a lot of money and that he loves Ferraris. So I think it is very likely that sooner or later he will have the money to buy a Ferrari.

Tip:

Sometimes, we use shall, can, or may instead of will, for example: If you are good today, you can watch TV tonight.

Try these exercises:

http://www.ego4u.com/en/cram-up/grammar/conditional-sentences/type-1/exercises

http://www.ego4u.com/en/cram-up/grammar/conditional-sentences/type-1/exercises?02

 

Second Conditional: unreal possibility or dream

The second conditional is like the first conditional. We are still thinking about the future. We are thinking about a particular condition in the future, and the result of this condition. But there is not a real possibility that this condition will happen. For example, you do not have a lottery ticket. Is it possible to win? No! No lottery ticket, no win! But maybe you will buy a lottery ticket in the future. So you can think about winning in the future, like a dream. It's not very real, but it's still possible.

 

IF

condition

result

 

past simple

WOULD + base verb

If

I won the lottery

I would buy a car.

Notice that we are thinking about a future condition. We use the past simple tense to talk about the future condition. We use WOULD + base verb to talk about the future result. The important thing about the second conditional is that there is an unreal possibility that the condition will happen.

Conditional Sentence Type 2

→ It is possible but very unlikely, that the condition will be fulfilled.

Form: if + Simple Past, Conditional I (= would + Infinitive)

Example: If I found her address, I would send her an invitation.

Here are some more examples:

IF

condition

result

 

past simple

WOULD + base verb

If

I married Mary

I would be happy.

If

Ram became rich

she would marry him.

If

it snowed next July

would you be surprised?

If

it snowed next July

what would you do?

 

result

IF

condition

WOULD + base verb

 

past simple

I would be happy

if

I married Mary.

She would marry Ram

if

he became rich.

Would you be surprised

if

it snowed next July?

What would you do

if

it snowed next July?

 

Form

if + Simple Past, main clause with Conditional I (= would + Infinitive)

Example: If I found her address, I would send her an invitation.

The main clause can also be at the beginning of the sentence. In this case, don't use a comma.

Example: I would send her an invitation if I found her address.

Note: Main clause and / or if clause might be negative. See Simple Past und Conditional I on how to form negative sentences.

Example: If I had a lot of money, I wouldn’t stay here.

Were instead of Was

In IF Clauses Type II, we usually use ‚were‘ – even if the pronoun is I, he, she or it –.

Example: If I were you, I would not do this.

Use

Conditional Sentences Type II refer to situations in the present. An action could happen if the present situation were different. I don't really expect the situation to change, however. I just imagine „what would happen if …“

Example: If I found her address, I would send her an invitation.

I would like to send an invitation to a friend. I have looked everywhere for her address, but I cannot find it. So now I think it is rather unlikely that I will eventually find her address.

Example: If John had the money, he would buy a Ferrari.

I know John very well and I know that he doesn't have much money, but he loves Ferraris. He would like to own a Ferrari (in his dreams). But I think it is very unlikely that he will have the money to buy one in the near future.

 

Tip:

Sometimes, we use should, could or might instead of would, for example: If I won a million dollars, I could stop working.

Try these exercises:

http://www.ego4u.com/en/cram-up/grammar/conditional-sentences/type-2/exercises

http://www.ego4u.com/en/cram-up/grammar/conditional-sentences/type-2/exercises?02

 

Third Conditional: no possibility

The first conditional and second conditionals talk about the future. With the third conditional we talk about the past. We talk about a condition in the past that did not happen. That is why there is no possibility for this condition. The third conditional is also like a dream, but with no possibility of the dream coming true.

Last week you bought a lottery ticket. But you did not win.

condition

result

 

Past Perfect

WOULD HAVE + Past Participle

If

I had won the lottery

I would have bought a car.

Notice that we are thinking about an impossible past condition. You did not win the lottery. So the condition was not true, and that particular condition can never be true because it is finished. We use the past perfect tense to talk about the impossible past condition. We use WOULD HAVE + past participle to talk about the impossible past result. The important thing about the third conditional is that both the condition and result are impossible now.

Conditional Sentence Type 3

→ It is impossible that the condition will be fulfilled because it refers to the past.

Form: if + Past Perfect, Conditional II (= would + have + Past Participle)

Example: If I had found her address, I would have sent her an invitation.

Tip:

Sometimes, we use should have, could have, might have instead of would have, for example: If you had bought a lottery ticket, you might have won.

Look at some more examples in the tables below:

IF

condition

result

 

past perfect

WOULD HAVE + past participle

If

I had seen Mary

I would have told her.

If

Tara had been free yesterday

I would have invited her.

If

they had not passed their exam

their teacher would have been sad.

If

it had rained yesterday

would you have stayed at home?

If

it had rained yesterday

what would you have done?

 

result

IF

condition

WOULD HAVE + past participle

 

past perfect

I would have told Mary

if

I had seen her.

I would have invited Tara

if

she had been free yesterday.

Their teacher would have been sad

if

they had not passed their exam.

Would you have stayed at home

if

it had rained yesterday?

What would you have done

if

it had rained yesterday?

 

Form

if + Past Perfect, main clause with Conditional II

Example: If I had found her address, I would have sent her an invitation.

The main clause can also be at the beginning of the sentence. In this case, don't use a comma.

Example: I would have sent her an invitation if I had found her address.

Note: Main clause and / or if clause might be negative. See Past Perfect and Conditional II on how to form negative sentences.

Example: If I hadn’t studied, I wouldn’t have passed my exams.

Use

Conditional Sentences Type III refer to situations in the past. An action could have happened in the past if a certain condition had been fulfilled. Things were different then, however. We just imagine, what would have happened if the situation had been fulfilled.

Example: If I had found her address, I would have sent her an invitation.

Sometime in the past, I wanted to send an invitation to a friend. I didn't find her address, however. So in the end I didn't send her an invitation.

Example: If John had had the money, he would have bought a Ferrari.

I knew John very well and I know that he never had much money, but he loved Ferraris. He would have loved to own a Ferrari, but he never had the money to buy one.

 

Try these exercises:

http://www.ego4u.com/en/cram-up/grammar/conditional-sentences/type-3/exercises

http://www.ego4u.com/en/cram-up/grammar/conditional-sentences/type-3/exercises?02

 

Zero Conditional: certainty

We use the so-called zero conditional when the result of the condition is always true, like a scientific fact.

Take some ice. Put it in a saucepan. Heat the saucepan. What happens? The ice melts (it becomes water). You would be surprised if it did not.

IF

condition

result

 

present simple

present simple

If

you heat ice

it melts.

Notice that we are thinking about a result that is always true for this condition. The result of the condition is an absolute certainty. We are not thinking about the future or the past, or even the present. We are thinking about a simple fact. We use the present simple tense to talk about the condition. We also use the present simple tense to talk about the result. The important thing about the zero conditional is that the condition always has the same result.

Tip:

We can also use when instead of if, for example: When I get up late I miss my bus.

Look at some more examples in the tables below:

IF

condition

result

 

present simple

present simple

If

I miss the 8 o'clock bus

I am late for work.

If

I am late for work

my boss gets angry.

If

people don't eat

they get hungry.

If

you heat ice

does it melt?

 

result

IF

condition

present simple

 

present simple

I am late for work

if

I miss the 8 o'clock bus.

My boss gets angry

if

I am late for work.

People get hungry

if

they don't eat.

Does ice melt

if

you heat it?

 

Conditionals: Summary

Here is a chart to help you to visualize the basic English conditionals. Do not take the 50% and 10% figures too literally. They are just to help you.

probability

conditional

example

time

100%

zero conditional

If you heat ice, it melts.

any time

50%

first conditional

If it rains, I will stay at home.

future

10%

second conditional

If I won the lottery, I would buy a car.

future

0%

third conditional

If I had won the lottery, I would have bought a car.

past

 

Exceptions

Sometimes Conditional Sentences Type I, II and III can also be used with other tenses.

So far you have only learned the basic rules for Conditional Sentences. It depends on the context, however, which tense to use. So sometimes it's possible for example that in an IF Clause Type I another tense than Simple Present is used, e.g. Present Progressive or Present Perfect.

Conditional Sentences Type I (likely)

Condition refers to:

IF Clause

Main Clause

future action

Simple Present

If the book is interesting, …

Future I

…I will buy it.

Imperative

…buy it.

Modal Auxiliary

…you can buy it.

action going on now

Present Progressive

If he is snoring, …

Future I

…I will wake him up.

Imperative

…wake him up.

Modal Auxiliary

…you can wake him up.

finished action

Present Perfect

If he has moved into his new flat, …

Future I

…we will visit him.

Imperative

…visit him.

Modal Auxiliary

…we can visit him.

improbable action

should + Infinitive

If she should win this race, …

Future I

…I will congratulate her.

Imperative

…congratulate her.

Modal Auxiliary

…we can congratulate her.

present facts

Simple Present

If he gets what he wants, …

Simple Present

…he is very nice.

Conditional Sentences Type II (unlikely)

Condition refers to:

IF Clause

Main Clause

present / future event

Simple Past

If I had a lot of money, …

Conditional I

…I would travel around the world.

consequence in the past

Simple Past

If I knew him, …

Conditional II

…I would have said hello.

Conditional Sentences Type II (impossible)

Condition refers to:

IF Clause

Main Clause

present

Past Perfect

If I had known it, …

Conditional I

…I would not be here now.

past

Past Perfect

If he had learned for the test, …

Conditional II

…he would not have failed it.

 

Try these exercises:

http://www.englishclub.com/grammar/verbs-conditional_quiz.htm

http://www.ego4u.com/en/cram-up/tests/conditional-sentences-4