Would you have become a great pianist if you had only practiced? (Conditional Type 3) Will you go to the store if you have time tonight? (Type 1) Do you cry if you get hurt? (Type 0) Would you buy a house if you had more money? (Type 2) If you have ever said an “if” sentence, you’ve used conditionals in English! (Type 1)
A conditional clause is a sentence that describes something that happens (Type 0), will happen (Type 1), maybe would happen (Type 2) or maybe would have happened (Type 3) if certain terms (conditionals, limitations) had been met. There are a few different types of conditionals that you can use that make use of different tenses.
Here are the different kinds of conditionals in English so that you can be speaking with confidence and more precisely!
The Zero Conditional – (Type 0)
The Zero Conditional is the simplest form of all the conditionals in English. It is formed in the following way:
If + present simple, … present simple
This is used when the result always happens. In other words, you can use this conditional for facts or cause and effects, whether what you’re speaking about is a scientific fact or a fact that’s only true for you.
- If it rains a lot, we don’t need to water the grass in the yard. (Cause -> Effect)
- If I eat a lot of sweets, I get sick afterwards. (Cause -> Effect)
- If I press the “on” button, the TV turns on. (Fact)
- I eat if I am hungry. (Fact)
The First Conditional (Type 1)
The First Conditional is a little more complicated than the Zero Conditional, but not much more. It is formed in the following way:
If + present simple, … will + infinitive
I always call this the “true conditional”, because it gives you a condition (limitation, pre-determined idea, prerequisite) under which something will follow.
This is used to talk about things that may happen in the future, if a condition is met. While we can’t predict exactly what happens in the future, the First Conditional allows us to talk about what we think will happen or what we would like to happen.
- If I get paid today, I will send you the money I owe you.
- If it snows, you will have off of school.
- I will tell her to call you if I see her.
- We will go for a walk later if the weather improves.
The Second Conditional (Type 2)
Unlike the first two conditionals, the Second Conditional has two different uses, but is formed one way. This is how:
If + past simple, … would + infinitive verb
We call this the “dream clause” because it is used for things that would happen in the future, but the condition is so unlikely, that the result is (basically) a dream! Forget it! You can use the Second Conditional to talk about your wildest dreams, for example, or any “what if” scenarios (situations, conditions).
Here are a few examples:
- If I won the lottery, I would buy a boat. (Very, very unlikely that you will win the lottery)
- If you met Elon Musk, he would give you a Tesla. (Also very unlikely you will meet him.)
The second use of the Second Conditional is to talk about a situation or scenario in the present (would + infinitive verb), which is impossible to happen because the condition (if + past simple) isn’t the reality (untrue). This can also be a hypothetical situation.
- If he had your number, he would call you. (He doesn’t have your number (condition is untrue), so he can’t call you (impossible to happen).)
- If I were you, I wouldn’t go out with her. (I am not you (condition is untrue), so now I won’t go out with her (impossible).)
- Would you have lived abroad if you had the chance? (You don’t have the chance, but if you did…)
All in all, the Second Conditional is much more unlikely than the First Conditional.
The Third Conditional (Type 3)
Finally, the Third Conditional is the last of the conditionals in English. This is how it is formed:
If + past perfect, … would + present perfect.
The Third Conditional talks about the past. It talks about something that didn’t happen, but you’re imagining the outcome now, just for fun. Maybe you regret (feel sorry about something, wish you had done something else) a decision you made. When you think about it, you feel maybe stupid that you didn’t do something else.
- If I had noticed it was sunny this morning, I would have gone for a walk. (But it’s not morning anymore and I don’t have time now to go for a walk. Bummer! No walk today.)
- If we had left earlier, we wouldn’t have missed our train. (Bummer! Now we have to wait for the next train and we will be late to dinner.)
- I would have started my English training sooner if I had known I was going to need English in my job! (I could have used my time better, earlier!)
The Third Conditional is useful when either daydreaming or thinking about what could have been.
Why not try out some conditionals in English yourself, eh?
Have a question? Know a fun way to remember these conditionals in English? Have a trick? Let us know how you do it in the comments below!
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Erin Duffin lives in Hamburg, is an English teacher, blogger, yoga instructor, and if she had known it was going to snow today, she would have stayed home!
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