Conditionals: the basics

by | May 14, 2020

We use conditionals to talk about the result of something that happens, something that might happen, or something that we imagine happening.

They are formed of two clauses – the if/when clause and one to describe the result.

The clauses can be in either order. When the if/when clause comes first, there is a comma between them. When the result clause comes first, there is no comma.

The zero conditional

This is used to talk about things that are always true. We use if/when + present simple in one clause and present simple in the other clause:

  • If you tease him, he gets angry.
  • He gets angry if you tease him.

The first conditional

This is used to describe the result of things in the future that we believe are possible. We use if/when + present simple in one clause and will + infinitive in the other clause:

  • If they offer me the job, I will accept it.
  • I will accept the job if they offer it to me.

The second conditional

This is used to imagine situations that are not likely to happen. We use if + past simple in one clause and would + infinitive in the other clause:

  • If I ruled the world, I would stop all wars.
  • I would stop all wars if I ruled the world.

The third conditional

This is used to imagine the result of a situation that didn’t happen. We use if + past perfect in one clause and would + have + past participle in the other clause:

  • If you had admitted your mistake, I wouldn’t have been so angry.
  • I wouldn’t have been so angry if you had admitted your mistake.

0 Comments

Learn more about this topic in our B1 Grammar book - only $2.99!

Written by English Language experts 

Phrases for Conversations in English
About Liz Walter

About Liz Walter

Liz Walter is a freelance lexicographer, teacher and writer, living in Cambridge, UK. She worked for many years on Cambridge University Press's range of ELT dictionaries and now works with Kate Woodford on books about the English language. Her other interests include politics, growing vegetables and family holidays in her camper van. She tweets at @LizJWalter