What about conditionals?

Are you confused?

Are you confused?

Conditional language becomes more and more important as you use English more. We need to understand what someone else means when they use conditional language and we also need conditionals to explain more things to other people. I found this very simple, clear explanation on

I hope that it helps you. Ask me questions if you don’t understand!

Defining Conditionals

Conditionals are sentence structures that explain a particular situation or circumstance and its consequences. If this happens, then that happens. Conditionals are commonly referred to as “if sentence structures” because they often contain the word “if.”

There are four main conditionals that are commonly used in the English language: first conditional, second conditional, third conditional and zero conditional.

First Conditional: Daily Considerations

The first conditional deals with issues that have a real possibility of occurring. This conditional typically deals with future, real world events that are pondered on a daily basis. When people make plans and suggest back up plans, they are utilizing the first conditional.

The first conditional uses the if/then structure and the words will, shall, can or may to convey the future action being considered. The following sentences are examples of the first conditional:

  • If I can get the time off of work, then I will come visit you in Baton Rouge.
  • If we burn the dinner, we may have to order pizza.
  • I can work from home, if my Internet connection gets fixed.
  • If it rains tomorrow, I shall go to the movies.

Second Conditional: Not Real Possibilities

The second conditional is a bit more tricky. In some ways it is similar to the first conditional. It utilizes the same if/then structure, but instead of using the words will, shall, can, or may, the second conditional uses would, could, or might. The most significant difference between the second conditional and the first conditional, however, is that the second conditional deals with events that are not real possibilities. In many cases, the events could happen; they are not physical impossibilities. However, they are not tangible events that are certain to impact daily life.

In many respects, the second conditional is what English speakers use when they are dreaming about something or fantasizing about a particular scenario. See the following sentences for examples of the second conditional:

  • If I had a million dollars, I might open an animal sanctuary.
  • If we lived in Spain, we would enjoy the siestas.
  • If I became president, I could do away with the penny.

Third Conditional: In the Past

While the first two conditionals talk about possible future events, the third conditional deals with the past. Specifically, the third conditional talks aboutevents in the past and ponders the effects of those events not happening.

Because we can’t go back in time, the third conditional deals with events that have no possibility of happening. The third conditional uses the words would have to convey these impossible events. The following are examples:

  • If Bobby Kennedy hadn’t been assassinated, he would have made a great president.
  • If I had bet on the long shot, I would have made a killing.
  • If I had married her when I had the chance, I would have been happy.

Zero Conditional: Always True

The zero conditional deals with issues that are always true. They can often be thought of as stating a scientific fact. The following are examples:

  • If you don’t ever water your plants, they die.
  • If you jump in a lake, you get wet.
  • If it gets below freezing, water turns into ice.
  • If you stick your hand in a fire, it burns.

4 comments on “What about conditionals?

  1. Hi, there! Thanks for this post about conditionals. I teach grammar to ESL students. Conditionals are very hard to teach and I’m glad to have found this site. You explained it quite clearly.

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