Third Conditional: No Possibility

The Third Conditional talks about situations the past that did not happen, and their hypothetical results. Because the situation did not happen, there is no possible result.

We can use the Third Conditional for dreams, but with absolutely no chance of the dream coming true.  For example: Yesterday you bought a lottery ticket but you didn’t win. But in your imagination you would say “If I had won the lottery, I would have bought an island.”

We can also use this condition for criticism or regret.  For example: “If you had done your job properly, we wouldn’t be in this mess now.” or “If I had studied harder, I could have passed the exam.”

We use the Past Perfect to talk about the past condition. We use Would Have or Could Have or Might Have + Past Participle to talk about the imaginary result.

IF Condition Result
 If you had called me,
I could have come.
If I hadn’t helped you,  you might have failed.
If we had paid the rent, we wouldn’t have been evicted.
If she had told me you were coming, I would have come too.
If you had driven more carefully, you wouldn’t have had an accident.
If it had rained yesterday what would you have done?
Result IF Condition
I could have told him  if I had seen him.
They might have accepted your ideas if you had explained them better.
I would have finished hours ago if I hadn’t wasted so much time.
She would have gone if she had had time.
I would have done the same thing if I had been there.
What would you have said if he had asked you?

Sometimes the “if” clause is implied. For example: I would have come. (but you didn’t ask me)

“I had” and “I would” are both contracted as “I’d”, so watch out for that.

In some varieties of English, the condition clause can use “would have” or “would’ve” but this is usually considered non-standard and is not usually used in more formal writing. For example: “If you would have told me, I would have done something” should probably read “If you had told me, I would have done something”.

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Second Conditional: Unreal Possibility

The Second Conditional used for impossible situations, unlikely events, dreams, and advice.

This conditional talks about the future, but there isn’t usually a real possibility that this condition will happen.

Imagine winning the lottery.  Even though you don’t have a ticket, you could buy a lottery ticket in the future and win, so you can still imagine what you would do if that ever happened.  It’s not very real, but it’s still possible.

We use the Past Simple to talk about the future condition.  We use would or could  or might base verb to talk about the result.

The “be” verb is usually conjugated in the subjunctive form of “were“.

IF Condition Result
If  loved her,  would marry her.
If They won the lottery, they could buy a new house.
If she were happy at work, she might not be looking for another job.
If were in your position, would understand.
If you went to Paris, would you visit the Eiffel Tower?
Result IF Condition
I would get a new job if I were you.
I could be rich if I worked harder.
She might marry Sam if he became rich.
He would do it for me if I asked him.
What would you do if you lived in China?

The difference between the First and Second conditional is usually a matter of the speaker’s attitude rather than facts.  For example, Kristen thinks these things are possible, but Jackie doesn’t.

  • Kristen: If I win the lottery, I will travel the world.
  • Jackie: If I won the lottery, I would travel the world.
  • Kristen: If I have more spare time, I will join the sports club.
  • Jackie: If I had more spare time, I would join the sports club.

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We can also use the Past Progressive in the “if” clause. For example:

  • If we were working together, we would finish much faster.
  • If you were living in Vancouver, you could see me every day.

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Sometimes the “if” clause is implied and not directly stated. For example:

  • What would I do without you? (if you weren’t here)
  • He wouldn’t agree. (if I asked him)

First Conditional: Real Possibility

With the First Conditional we are thinking about the future, and talking about a condition that is likely to happen and the possible result of this condition.

There is always a very real chance that the condition will happen.

For example, you get up in the morning and plan to go for a run, but the sky is getting cloudy.  It’s not raining right now, but you think it might rain later.  What will you do?  If it rains, I will stay at home.

We use the Present Simple tense to talk about the condition.  We use will + base verb or  modal + base verb or imperative to talk about the result.

We don’t usually use “will” or “won’t” in the “if” clause.

IF Condition Result
If I see Mary I will tell her.
If Tara is free tomorrow invite her.
If they do not pass their exam their teacher will be sad.
If she gets up early she can catch the bus.
If it rains tomorrow what will you do?

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Result IF Condition
I will tell Mary if I see her.
He will buy me lunch if he sees me tomorrow.
They can visit the pyramids if they go to Mexico.
Stay at home if it rains tomorrow.
What will you do if he doesn’t call you?

Zero Conditional: Certainty

We use the Zero Conditional to express general truths and facts. We are thinking about a result that is always true for this condition, and an absolute certainty. We are not thinking about the future, past, or present, but only of a simple fact.

The important thing about the zero conditional is that the condition always has the same result.

We use the Present Simple tense to talk about the condition, and the Present Simple tense to talk about the result.

IF Condition Result
Present simple Present simple
If you don’t love, you can’t live.
If I sleep too late, I miss my morning class.
If people don’t eat, they get hungry.
If you drink too much, do you get a hangover?

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Result IF Condition
present simple present simple
You can’t live if you don’t love.
My boss gets angry if I am late for work.
I am disappointed  if you don’t pass your exams.
Do you go to the doctor if you are sick?
  • We can use “when” instead of “if”, for example: “When he comes to town, we go for dinner.”
  • We can use “unless” which means “if … not”, for example: “You will be unhappy unless you break up with her” = “You will be unhappy if you do not break up with her.”

Introduction to Conditionals

There are four basic English conditionals that we use to express possible or imaginary situations: Zero, First, Second, and Third.

Conditional sentences contain two clauses: the “if” (condition) clause, and the “resultclause. All conditionals have two easy, possible structures and either structure can be used without changing the meaning.  We can put the “if” clause first, or the “result” first.  Note that we only use a comma when the “if” clause come first.

For example: If a certain condition is true, then a specific result happens.

IF Condition Result
IF x = 10, 2x = 20

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For example: A specific result happens if a certain condition is true.

Result IF Condition
2x = 20 IF x = 10

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Here’s a little chart to help you visualize.

Probability Conditional Example When
100% Zero Conditional If I don’t eat for a long time, I get very hungry. Any Time
~50% First Conditional If she sees him, she will tell him the news. Future
~10% Second Conditional If he studied harder, he would graduate with honours. Future
0% Third Conditional If they had gone to Hawaii, they would have surfed everyday. Past