English Conditionals

First Conditional | Second Conditional | Third Conditional
Zero ConditionalSummary Table


Welcome to the English Conditionals section.

In this section we will cover all four English conditional.

But before we begin:

What is a conditional?

A conditional is a sentence or part of a sentence that expresses a condition. It usually begins with the words "when," "if" and "unless."

A condition is what must happen before something else can happen.


Examples of conditionals (note that the conditions are in italics):

I will come if I have enough time.
(I am not sure that I will come. It depends on something else.)

She would tell me if she knew.
(She doesn't know.)

Unless she agrees to pay us we will not take the job.
(She must agree to pay before we take the job.)

They will come when I call them.
(They will not come before I call them.)


There are four basic conditionals in English, or in other words: there are four ways to express that something is dependent on something else.

Note: in the examples below the conditions are in GREEN, and the results are in BROWN.


First Conditional | Second Conditional | Third Conditional
Zero ConditionalSummary Table | Top

The First Conditional

The First Conditional

"If he catches a fish, he will be very happy."

We use first conditional when talking about possible future events.


Structure:

If + Simple Present, + Will

OR

Will + If + Simple Present


Examples:

  • Lisa will be very happy if she wins the prize.

  • If it rains, then we will stay at home.

  • You will always be able to take another test if you fail.

  • If I see Sam, I will ask him to give you a call.

Note:

You can use these modal verbs instead of will:
shall, can, may.


Examples:
  • If you fail, you can always try again.

  • If you finish everything on time, you may go home earlier.

  • We shall meet on Sunday, if it's alright with you.


First Conditional | Second Conditional | Third Conditional
Zero ConditionalSummary Table | Top

The Second Conditional

The Second Conditional

"If I met a genie, I would ask for infinite wealth..."

We use the second conditional when talking about future events that are not likely to happen.

Structure:

If + Simple Past, + Would + Base Form

OR

Would + Base Form + If + Simple Past


Examples:
  • If I won a million dollars, I would travel around the world.
    (There is a small possibility that I would actually win.)

  • If I met him again, I would tell him the truth.
    (There is a small possibility that I would actually meet him again.)

  • She would quit school if her parents agreed.
    (It is unlikely that her parents agree.)

  • I would be surprised if I saw pigs in the sky.
    (It is very unlikely for me to see pigs in the sky.)

We also use the second conditional when talking about things which are contrary to the present facts.

The Second Conditional

"If I had any money, I would give you some."

Examples:
  • If she worked less, she wouldn't be so tired.
    (In reality she doesn't work less, so she is tired.)

  • You would see John if you were here now.
    (In reality you are not here now, so you don't see John.)

  • If things were different, we would be happy.
    (In reality things are not different, and we are not happy.)

  • We would be good friends if she were nicer.
    (In reality she is not nice, and we are not good friends.)

Note:

You can use these modal verbs instead of would:
should, could, might.


Examples:
  • If she didn't have her job, she could come with us to the North Pole.

  • If they wanted to move, they could sell the house to us.

Note:
The short form of would is 'd.
For example: If Kathleen were at home, she'd pick up the phone.

The verb BE

The verb BE has a special rule in this case.

Usually we say: I was, he was, she was, it was, we were, you were, they were.

However, in these cases, we use:
I were, he were, she were, it were, we were, you were, they were.

In other words: "were" is the only form.

Examples:

If I were you I would apologize.
(In reality I am not you.)

I would fight back, if I were you.
(In reality I am not you.)



First Conditional | Second Conditional | Third Conditional
Zero ConditionalSummary Table | Top

The Third Conditional

The Third Conditional

"If I had paid more attention, I wouldn't have hit myself..."

We use the third conditional when talking about things which are contrary to the past facts. In other words: events that did not happen in the past.

Structure:

If + Past Perfect, + Would have + V3

OR

Would have + V3 + If + Past Perfect


Examples:
  • If I had woken up on time, I would have taken the bus.
    (What really happened was that I didn't wake up on time, and so I didn't take the bus.)

  • Tom would have helped us if he had known we were there.
    (What really happened was that he didn't know we were there, and so he didn't help us.)

  • If I had told Sarah the truth, I would have felt much better.
    (What really happened was that I didn't tell Sarah the truth, and so I didn't feel so good.)

  • If it hadn't rained yesterday, we would have enjoyed a nice picnic.
    (What really happened was that it rained yesterday, and we didn't go for a picnic.) 

Note #1:
The short form of had is 'd.
For example: If he'd passed his exams, he would have gotten a diploma.


Note #2:
You can use these modal verbs instead of would have:
should have, could have, might have.


Examples:
  • Jessica might have gotten the job if she hadn't been so nervous.

  • You could have arrived on time if you had used a map.

  • If she had known what to do, she should have told us.


First Conditional | Second Conditional | Third Conditional
Zero ConditionalSummary Table | Top

The Zero Conditional

The Zero Conditional

"If the sun sets, it becomes night."

We use the zero conditional when talking about things which are always true, or generally  true.

Structure:

If + Simple Present, + Simple Present

OR

Simple Present + If + Simple Present


Examples:
  • If you boil an egg, it becomes solid.

  • If you heat something, it becomes hotter.

  • I always listen to music if I jog.

Note:
We can use "when" instead of "if."


Examples:
  • When I see Karen I always feel better.

  • When she feels sick she lies in bed.

  • He starts yelling only when he gets really desperate.


First Conditional | Second Conditional | Third Conditional
Zero ConditionalSummary Table | Top

English Conditionals Summary Table

Conditional Time Frame Probability Example
First Conditional Future Possible If I meet Helen, I will invite her to the party.
Second Conditional Future Unlikely If I won the lottery,
I would help the world.
Second Conditional Present Unreal/
Imaginary
If I had the money,
I would lend it to you.
Third Conditional Past Impossible If I had studied French,
I would have known it.
Zero Conditional Always/Generally Certain If you drop something,
it falls.

Related articles:

Conditionals in English, Common Errors and Tips

Mixed Conditionals, Explanations and Examples

Indicative Mood, Imperative Mood and Subjunctive Mood

English Modal Verbs

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