Everything And More About Conditionals
Conditionals are one of the most complex topics in studying English. There are many variations and types of them. Hence, it might be challenging for some people to understand and remember all the tiniest details. But you don’t have to worry! This article was created to explain this challenging topic in the simplest words. So don’t panic; bear with us, and we will tell you everything you might need to know about English conditionals.
What are conditionals in English?
According to the Collins dictionary, conditional sentences are those in which one thing depends on another. The main feature of such sentences that varies them from others is the conjunction if at the beginning or end.
For example, if the water heats up to 100 degrees, it boils – sounds pretty straightforward. But why do some people think that the English conditional tense is something horrifying? Well, simply because there are five types of them. It is easy to confuse one with another. For starters, let’s look at some basic information about different types of conditionals.
- Zero Conditional. Mostly used to describe facts.
- First Conditional. Describes a quite possible situation.
- Second Conditional. Used to describe an unreal possibility in the future or present.
- Third Conditional. Describes an impossible situation in the past.
- Mixed Conditional. Combination of two different types of conditionals.
Below, we will tell you more details about every conditional. But before it, you need to learn more about conditionals grammar, the main rules of usage, etc. After learning the basic information, it will be much easier for you to understand various conditional types. So without further ado, let’s dive straight into this topic.
Conditional grammar and main rules
All conditionals consist of two parts – the if-clause, which describes the condition, and the main clause, which describes a result. Both parts can be equally placed at the beginning or end of the sentence. For example:
If I see her, I’ll tell her about your idea.
I will tell her about your idea if I see her.
Another important thing in conditional tenses in English grammar is punctuation. The rule is simple, and you can see it in the example. You need to use a comma between clauses if the sentence starts with the condition, and you don’t have to use it if it starts with the result. By the way, the previous sentence is also conditional.
Five types of conditional tense in English
You’ve just finished reading general grammar rules suitable for different types of conditionals. But every type also has nuances and details that are optional. So now, it is time to fully immerse into the world of conditionals to master this tricky topic finally.
A zero conditional tense in English is considered one of the simplest ones. As we’ve mentioned earlier, this type of conditional sentence is used to describe facts. In different situations, it might be scientific facts, natural phenomena, general or obvious statements, or actions that always occur under the following conditions. Sometimes, you can use a zero type for advice or recommendation. While all other conditions may have assumptions, these sentences only state facts.
Zero conditionals examples and structure
Mostly, when talking about zero conditional sentences, we use the Present Simple Tense in the if-clause and the main clause. Of course, there are some exceptions (no English without them), but they are pretty rare. Take a look at the general structure of the zero conditionals in English grammar:
- If + Present Simple + Present Simple
You can replace the conjunction if with the word when or even the phrase every time in such sentences. Its meaning will still be the same. Here are some of the most popular examples:
If (when) the water heats up to 100 degrees, it boils.
If (when) you close your eyes, you don’t see anything.
I feel awful when (if) I wake up too late.
- If + Present Continuous + Present Simple
We mainly use the Present Continuous tense in the zero conditionals to describe an action in progress in the if-clause. For example:
If you’re going through tough times, you need to seek help from your friends and family.
Don’t turn up the volume too loud if you’re listening to music in headphones.
When you use zero conditional sentences to give advice, you can also use modal verbs such as may, can, should, etc., or the verb in the imperative mood without a subject. For example:
If you’re going through tough times, seek help from your friends and family.
You shouldn’t turn up the volume too loud if you’re listening to music in headphones.
The first conditional sentences are almost as simple as the previous ones. We can use it to describe the event or situation that will happen in the future if we fulfill the condition from the if-clause. Most conditional English sentences of the first type are used to talk about the future.
First conditional examples and structure
Even though the complete first conditional sentence defines future time, only the main clause is used in Future Simple Tense, while the if-clause is in Present Simple. The most common grammar conditional examples of the structure of the first type are:
- If + Present Simple + Future Simple
We will miss the train if you don’t finish your make-up.
If I find this girl, I will tell her about my feelings.
Unlike zero types, we can’t replace the conjunction if with the word when in the first conditional sentences. Well, we can, actually, but it will slightly change the meaning. The word when shows the high possibility of something that will happen. Compare these sentences:
If I see Mark, I will ask him about the job/ I will ask Mark about the job if I see him.
When I see Mark, I will ask him about the job/ I will ask Mark about the job when I see him.
The person from the first two sentences is not sure if they will see Mark, but if they do, they will ask him about the job. On the other hand, the second pair of sentences shows us that the person knows they will probably see Mark, so they will ask about the job when it happens.
- If + Present Continuous + Future Simple
Like the previous type, first conditional sentences can also describe an action in progress in the if-clause. For example:
If Marla is waiting for me, I will hurry.
If Tyler is sleeping, I won’t disturb him.
And just like zero conditionals, the first type of English conditionals can also be used with modal verbs or verbs in the imperative mood without a subject. For example:
If Marla is waiting for me, I hurry.
If Tyler is sleeping, I shouldn’t disturb him.
We use zero and the first conditional sentences to mention possible events or facts. The second type of condition in English sentences is used to describe unreal events in the present or future events that are unlikely to happen. Another option is to use such sentences when discussing impossible wishes and desires.
Second conditional examples and structure
Take a look at the general structure of the second conditional.
- If + Past Simple + Subjunctive Mood
If I lived in New York, I would be the happiest human on this planet.
If she were kind, she would help that poor man.
When we have the word be in our if-clause, we should use its plural form (were) regardless of the subject. Of course, in informal conversations, you can still use the word was (native speakers do this often), but it might be a problem when passing the exams. The most popular example of such a structure is:
- If I were you + I would
Another way to use the second English conditional tense is to describe an imaginary situation – what would you do in the other person’s place? For example:
If I were you, I would quit the job.
If I were you, I wouldn’t go there.
- If + Past Simple + Modal Verb + bare infinitive
You can also use modal verbs (could, should, might, must) in the main clause of the second conditional sentence. For example:
If you were more friendly, you could have a girlfriend.
If I were more responsible, I could be there on time.
The third conditional in English is used when we discuss things that we regret didn’t happen or missed opportunities. In layman’s terms, third conditional sentences describe an event that could happen in the past due to a particular condition but didn’t. Let’s take a look at the structure of such sentences:
- If + Past Perfect + would + have + V3
Unusual structure, huh? Thanks to it, third conditional sentences are now considered one of the hardest to understand. But don’t worry; we are here to explain everything! Here are some examples:
If I had worked harder, I would have had a fortune now.
She would have been much happier if she hadn’t married this guy.
Now you know when to use the conditional of the third type. But (surprise!) it’s not all. Sometimes these tricky sentences might be even more confusing. For example, they may not have the if-part in the if-clause. Instead, they can look like regular questions:
Had you worked harder, you would have a fortune now.
Had you truly wanted that job, you would have had it.
- If + Past Perfect + Modal Verb + have + V3
In some cases, the word would in the third conditional sentence can be replaced with modal verbs could, might, should, and must. For example:
I might have got that car if I hadn’t spent all the money.
If Max hadn’t cheated on Kathy, they could have been together.
Now you know all types of conditions in English. But in some cases, a conditional sentence can consist of two parts. Usually, these sentences combine two types – the second one and the third one. Below, you can find a more detailed explanation.
Mixed conditional examples and structure
There are two types of mixed conditionals, depending on the point of the sentence. We can use the second condition in the main clause, the third conditional in the if-clause, and vice versa. Here is the structure of such sentences:
- If + Past Perfect + Subjunctive Mood
We could use such sentences when we discuss something (the result) we could have now if something had happened in the past. Like the third one, this type of mixed conditional sentence describes regrets and missed opportunities. For example:
If I hadn’t bought a gift yesterday, I would buy it cheaper.
If I had stayed in New York, I would have the career of my dream now.
- If + Past Simple + would + have + V3
In these sentences, we discuss a situation that could have happened in the past if the present condition had been fulfilled. Mostly, such conditions are constant and relate to both future and present circumstances. For example:
I would have come to your party yesterday if I liked parties.
If I were a fan of this group, I would have bought the tickets.
Conjunctions in English conditional sentences
The most obvious feature of conditional sentences is the conjunction if. But what if we told you that it is not just it? You already know that you can replace it with when, but even that is not all. Native speakers usually use different conjunctions in conditional sentences. To understand that it is conditional, you can answer the question – can I replace this conjunction with “if”? Here are some of the most common examples:
Conjunction after is used in conditional sentences when we know exactly that the condition will be fulfilled. For example:
I will move out after I get the promotion.
If I get the promotion, I will move out.
Native speakers prefer to use this conjunction in conditional sentences with the construction if…not. For example:
You will get soaked in the rain unless you take an umbrella.
If you don’t take an umbrella, you will get soaked in the rain.
- As long as.
This conjunction is suitable for sentences with the construction only…if in their structure. For example:
You won’t get cold as long as you have your coat.
You will not get cold only if you have your coat.
- Provided that.
Like the previous example, this conjunction is suitable for sentences with construction only…if. For example:
Provided that you buy the gift, we’ll have time to hide it under the Christmas tree.
We will only have time to hide the gift under the Christmas tree if you buy it.
How to understand English conditionals easily?
Now we told you everything about conditionals. But how can you remember all those rules, structures, and other important information? Because there is plenty of it. And how can you start using it in your daily conversations? Well, don’t worry. With some of our tips, learning conditional tense rules won’t be a problem for you.
- Learn to determine conditionals. We’ve mentioned that English conditional sentences have one significant feature that distinguishes them from thousands of other complex sentences. Yes, we are talking about the conjunction if. When you hear or read the sentence starting with it, you can be almost sure that it is conditional.
- Break the sentence into two parts. If it is still hard for you to understand whether the sentence is conditional or not, try to break it into two parts. You need to find the if-clause (or condition in such a sentence) and the main clause (the result). It will help you to determine conditions and easily find out their types.
- Learn the structure. The best way to easily learn the conditions is simply to remember all the structures of different types. After doing it, you will be able to understand the process of creating such sentences, and it will be easy for you to use them in your daily conversations.
- Listen to the natives. Another great practice for learning conditionals is trying to hear them in native speech. If you have an English-speaking friend or live in an English-speaking environment, try to listen to your interlocutor carefully in your next conversation. You will be surprised by the number of conditional sentences in your dialogue.
- Create your own sentences. Practice makes perfect – it’s not a secret. If you’re still not sure about your skills, take your time to practice. Just sit down and write as many sentences as you can. Try to imagine different situations, and use different types, and you will be surprised how easy this topic can be.
That’s it – five simple tips that can be significant game changers in your studying process. All you need is some time and motivation, and you will easily master this tricky topic. And if you are not certain that you can learn English conditionals alone, keep reading. We know exactly how to help.
Understanding conditionals in English with Promova
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Congratulations! You’ve finished the article and know more about this tricky topic. Now you can easily explain what conditionals are and how to use their types. We hope it was helpful. Here is one last example for you instead of goodbye – if you want to learn more useful English tips, read the Promova blog regularly. And don’t forget to share in the comments your thoughts on what type of conditional sentence it was!
What are English conditionals?
Cambridge Dictionary defines English grammar conditionals as sentences that consider imagined or uncertain situations and the possible results of these situations. In layman’s terms, those are the sentences in which one thing depends on another one. The most obvious thing that can help you to determine such sentences is the conjunction if (in some cases – when).
What are the main types of English conditionals?
There are five of them. Zero conditional sentences are used when we talk about the facts. First-type conditionals describe possible situations. The second one describes unreal possibilities in the future. The third conditional type is used when we talk about unreal possibilities in the past. Mixed conditionals are the combinations of two different types.
How to use English zero conditionals?
There are many situations when you can use zero conditional English sentences. It will be suitable when discussing weather conditions, natural phenomena, general knowledge, or obvious statements. In most cases, both if- and main clauses are used in Present Simple. You can also see zero conditionals when recommending someone something.
What are the best examples of English first conditional tense?
In general, we can use first conditionals when talking (in the main clause) about a particular event that will happen only if the condition from the if-clause is fulfilled. Most of these sentences are used to describe the future, but you need to remember that we use the main clause in Future Simple and the if-clause – in Present Simple.