Content / EFL / grammar-reference / conditionals .. concise-view << previous next >>

What are conditionals in English Grammar?

There are a number of structures in English that are called the conditionals which are used to talk about possible or imaginary situations. A "Condition" is a "situation or circumstance". For example: If a certain condition is true, then a particular result happens. Conditions are situations that must happen to change another situation. The structure of the conditionals is straightforward. There are two basic possibilities in terms of order in the sentence: A conditional sentence has two parts: The if clause, which tells us about the condition. The result clause, which tells us about the situation being effected These clauses can be in either order.

Recorded Lesson


Different kinds of conditional.

English Conditional sentences are usually classified according to the tenses used as: Zero,first,second or third conditional.

Table of conditional tenses

Conditional Tense Use Examples:
First conditional Present simple We often use conditionals to talk about things that may happen in the future. If I'm invited, I'll go. (Wait and see)
Second conditional Past simple If we are talking about ideas or hypotheses, we use the past form of the verb. If I had the time, I would learn Italian. (Fat chance of that)
Third conditional Past perfect If you had told me earlier, I could have helped (It's too late now)
Mixed forms Some are combined forms but still correct.

If they have won the match (3rd), they will surely come home happy.

The people at home don't yet know the result of the match.


Use the arrows to match the meanings

  1. If our presence in Japan increases, we will be better placed to expand in China
  2. If we increased our presence in Japan, we would be better placed to expand in China
  3. If we had increased our presence in Japan, we would have been better placed to expand in China
  1. Lets do our best to achieve this.
    Shift Up
  2. We missed our chance.
    Shift Up
  3. This is quite likely to happen.
    Shift UP

Conditional Examples Explained

There are four well-known conditional forms as follows:
Name Form Common usage
Zero When or 'If' + present verb , present verb (Without WILL) .

Note: When rather than if can give a greater feeling of certainty.

First If + present verb , will + present verb.

Note: There are other possible modals besides will and other words apart from If. For example: Unless

Second If ... + past simple, .... + would (will in the past) + bare infinitive ..
Third If ... had been (past perfect) ..., .... would have been (will in the past + present perfect) ....
Mixed conditionals change tense in one clause so that the structure does not match the zero, first, second and third conditionals. Sometimes these sentences are correct if the meaning is clear and there is a good reason for the tense change.
The most common mixed conditional is a condition in the past with a result in the present. It starts like a 3rd conditional but ends with would + infinitive.
  1. If I had been a singer, I would be rich!
    The If clause is in the 3rd conditional, so it's an unreal past, and 'would be' (2nd conditional) is an unreal present. Unreal past condition and unreal present result.
  2. If he had been up the Eiffel Tower, he would know it's in Paris.
    He doesn't know the Eiffel Tower is in Paris, so he hasn't been up the Eiffel Tower. Unreal past condition, unreal present result.
  3. If she had caught the train, she would be here by now.
    Unreal past condition and unreal present result.
  4. If I had done the homework, I would be ready.
    Unreal past condition and unreal present result.

Other mixed conditionals

Although the mixed conditional form past perfect, + would + bare infinitive shown here is the most common. There are many other possible mixed conditionals. If a sentence makes clear sense, in terms of the tense meaning and it is different to all the standard conditional forms, then it may stand as a correct sentence. Examples:

  1. If she has got on the plane, she'll be in New York in the morning.
  2. If she had got (3rd conditional) on the plane, she'd be (2nd conditional) in New York in the morning.


Test yourself

iBiscuits LOGO