Life-time learner's blog

Conditionals in English

Good afternoon.

Our today’s lesson is about Conditionals in English. In grammar, conditional sentences are sentences discussing factual implications or hypothetical situations and their consequences. Languages use a variety of conditional constructions and verb forms (such as the conditional mood) to form such sentences. [wiki].

All conditional sentences can be divided into four different groups. (Of course, there are some other ways to classify different forms of conditional)

Zero Conditional

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

Consider the following situation: 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. We can say: The ice melts if it is heated or: If we heat a piece of ice, it melts.


  • IfV,V.
  • V ifV.

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

We do not put comma before if / when / as soon as in such sentences.  Using “if” suggests that something happens less frequently. Using “when” suggests that something happens regularly.

The verbs (V) can be in Present Continuous / Past Simple form. For example: If I went to a friend’s house for dinner, I usually took a bottle of wine or some flowers. I don’t do that anymore.  This form is called Past Real Conditional and describes what you used to do in particular real-life situations. It suggests that your habits have changed and you do not usually do these things today.

First Conditional

We are talking about the future (that’s why this form of conditional is also called Future Real Conditional). 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.

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? In this situation we can say: If it rains, I will not play tennis.


  • IfV,will V
  • will V if V.

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

Both “if” and “when” are used in the Future Real Conditional, but the use is different from other Real Conditional forms. In the Future Real Conditional, “if” suggests that you do not know if something will happen or not. “When” suggests that something will definitely happen at some point; we are simply waiting for it to occur. Notice also that the Simple Future is not used in if-clauses or when-clauses.

Second Conditional

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 … V2, … would V
  • would V if … V2.

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. That’s why this form is called Present Unreal Conditional.

Only the word “if” is used with the Second Conditional because you are discussing imaginary situations. “When” cannot be used. Sometimes, we use shouldcould or might instead of would, for example: If I won a million dollars, I could stop working.

Third Conditional

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. Consider the following situation. Last week you bought a lottery ticket. But you did not win. In this situation we would say: If I had won the lottery, I would have bought a new car.


  • If … had V3, … would have V
  • … would have V if had V3.

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, that’s why it is called Past Unreal Conditional. Sometimes, we use should havecould havemight have instead of would have, for example: If you had bought a lottery ticket, you might have won.



Formulae Probability


 Zero Conditional
  • If … V, … V.
  • … V if … V.
 ~ 100 % If the ice is heated, it melts

 First Conditional

  • If … V, … will V
  • … will V if … V.
 ~ 50 % If it rains tomorrow, I won’t play tennis.

 Second Conditional

  • If … V2, … would V
  • … would V if … V2.
 < 10 %  If I had a lot of money, I wouldn’t work.

 Third Conditional

  • If … had V3, … would have V
  • … would have V if … had V3.
 0 %  If I had won the lottery last week, I would have bought a new car


  1. Conditional Sentences in English in Wikipedia
  2. English Conditionals at
  3. Conditional Tutorial at
  4. First and Second conditionals at
Thanks for visiting our website. Good luck with your English!
English Tek

One response to “Conditionals in English

  1. Harold Bond November 11, 2011 at 04:31

    I discovered your homepage by coincidence.
    Very interesting posts and well written.
    I will put your site on my blogroll.

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