Conditionals Overview

Conditionals - Lesson #1

We use conditionals to tell or guess about the result of something.

Conditionals have two parts:
  1. The "if-clause" – This tells the condition.

  2. The possible result – The result will be true if the "if-clause" is true.
Note: Sometimes the word "unless" is used instead of "if" to express a negative condition and sometimes the word "when" is used to give a condition.

Look at this example.
  • If you work, you get money.
    (But if you do not work, then you do not get money.)
The result of getting money depends on the condition of working. You must work to get money.We can put the "if-clause" at the beginning of a sentence or in the middle.
  • If you come, I will be happy.
    (=I will be happy if you come.)

  • If it rains, we won't play.
    (=We won't play if it rains.)
We can put the word "then" before the result when the result is the second part. However, we do not need to put "then", it can also be left out.
  • If it rains, then I will not go. = If it rains, I will not go.
Note: If you put the condition first, then separate it from the other part with a comma (,). The sentence you just read is an example.

Do not use "then" if the result is the first part.
  • Then I will not go if it rains.
The idea of conditionals is simple, but the hard thing about conditionals is that there are many different forms and tenses used. Depending on the situation and time, we need to change conditional sentences.

In this lesson, we will briefly cover all of the different kinds of conditionals. In the following lessons, we will go into more detail about each kind of conditional.

1. Present Real Conditionals (Zero Conditionals)

We use present real conditionals to tell general truths and habits. We use present tense verbs in these sentences.
  • If you do not eat, then you die.
  • If you study hard, you can learn English.
  • You get four if you add two plus two.
  • When it rains, the ground is wet.
2. Future Real Conditionals (First Conditionals)

These are used to tell what will probably happen if a condition is true. Use present tense for the condition and use any future tense grammar for the result. This is the most common conditional.
  • If it snows, I will stay home.
  • If you study, then you will pass the test.
  • You will like it if you try it.
  • If I have time, I am going to exercise.
  • I might go if it is free.
3. Past Real Conditionals

These conditionals are used to talk about general truths or habits in the past. Use the past tense for both the condition and the result.
  • I took a taxi if it rained when I lived in New York. But now, I live in Ohio and I have my own car so I drive everywhere.
  • If my teacher yelled at me, then I cried when I was young.
  • When he came to parties, he used to bring alcohol, but now he doesn't drink.
4. Present Unreal Conditionals (Second Conditionals)

These conditionals are talking about a condition that is not true or a condition that has a very small probability of being true. We call these hypotheticals. We are just imagining or thinking.

Express the condition in the past tense and express the result with "would/could/might + verb".
  • If I won the lottery, I would buy a new house.
  • If this shirt were on sale, I would buy it, but it is not on sale, so I will not buy it.
  • I would live in a penthouse apartment in New York City if I had enough money. Unfortunately, I do not have enough money so I can't do that.
  • You could learn anything if you had enough time.
5. Past Unreal Conditionals (Third Conditionals)

These are very important if you want to speak English fluently. We use these conditionals to talk about situations in the past. We are not talking about what really happened. We are just imagining how the past would have or could have been different if something in the past changed.

Take a look at this example.

I didn't study very hard and I failed a test. This really happened. But if I had studied harder, then I would have passed the test. I didn't actually pass the test. I am just imagining what would have happened if I had studied harder.

Express the condition with the past perfect tense and express the result with "would/could/might have + past participle".
  • If it hadn't rained, I would have gone to the game. But it rained, so I didn't go.
  • If I had won the lottery, I would have bought you a car. But really, I didn't win, so don't get too excited.
  • She could have gotten the promotion if she had treated her coworkers nicer.
6. Future Unreal Conditionals

Future real conditionals are the same as present unreal conditionals.

Express the condition in the past tense and express the result with "would/could/might + verb".
  • If I had money, I would buy a new car.
  • I would do that if it were possible.
We can also express the condition with "were + verb-ing" or "were + going to + verb" and express the result with "would/could/might + be + verb-ing".
  • If I were going to Europe next week, I would be taking my camera.
  • We would be bringing a dessert if we were going, but we are not going.
Note: We use "were" with every subject. Do not use "was" with unreal conditionals.

7. Continuous Forms

We can express the condition for any tense using the continuous forms.
  • If the sun is shining, then I will go out.
  • If he had been paying attention, he wouldn't have gotten in the accident.
  • She would tell us if she were leaving the company.
8. Mixed Conditionals

We can mix the verb tenses of conditionals. For example, the condition could be in the past, but the result could be in the present.
  • If I had won the lottery, I would have a lot of money now.
    (Winning the lottery condition is in the past, but having lots of money is a current state.)

  • If he had studied harder when he was young, he would be attending a better university next year.
    (Studying is in the past and attending university is in the future.)
9. Were to

We use this to emphasize a condition that is highly unlikely. There is almost a 0% chance that the condition will happen.

We only use this with the condition (if-clause). These conditionals have the same meaning as the unreal conditionals, but they emphasize how unlikely it is that the conditional will actually happen.

For a present and future, then use "were to + verb".
  • If I were to win the lottery, I would buy a house.
    (=If I won the lottery, I would buy a house.)

  • If I were to lose my job, then I would need to find a new one quickly.
    (=If I lost my job, then I would need to find a new one quickly.)
For the past, use "were to have + past participle".
  • If I were to have quit my job, then I wouldn't have met you.
    (=If I had quit my job, then I wouldn't have met you.)
Conditionals are a key part of English. You should take the time to learn all of these conditionals well. The upcoming lessons will cover all the English conditionals in more detail.

Do not pay too much attention to the grammar words like "zero conditional". These are not important. Pay attention to the example sentences and the word order.

There are many other free English grammar lessons that cover conditionals in detail. There are also many free English lessons to help you learn other English grammar, speak fluent English, and learn everything else you want to about the English language.