Conditionals are typically used to speculate about what might have happened, what could happen, and what we want to have happen. There are multiple types; let’s explore them!

Conditional Clauses

Conditional clauses are a type of dependent adverbial clause that state a hypothesis or condition, real or imagined. Just like any other adverbial clause, a conditional clause can come before or after the independent clause in which a condition is stated.


(If I have enough money,) I will buy a car.

I will buy a car (if I have enough money).

Zero Conditionals/Factual Conditionals

Zero Conditionals/Factual Conditionals (Real Conditional) are used for scientific facts, rules, and laws of nature, or facts that are generally true. The condition always has the same result. The tense in both parts of the sentence is the simple present.


If you heat water to 100 degrees, it boils.

Ice melts if you heat it.

If students do not have a user account, the college gives them one.

First Conditionals

First Conditionals (Real Conditional) are used when we are thinking about a real possibility that may happen in the future.  

We use the present simple tense to talk about possible future conditions. We use will + base verb to talk about the possible future result.


If it rains, we will cancel the picnic.

You will be late if you do not take the car.

Modals, auxiliary verbs that express a chance or a necessity, such as “may,” “might,” “should, “must,” etc., can also be used with first conditionals.

If you want to reduce weight, you should eat less meat.

If you finish the test early, you may leave.

Second Conditionals/Hypothetical Conditionals

Second Conditionals/Hypothetical Conditionals (Unreal Conditional) are used to express improbable or unreal situations that are unlikely to happen now or in the future.

 We use the past simple tense to talk about the future condition. We use would + base verb to talk about the future result. Also, notice that we use were with I.


If I won the lottery, I would travel a lot.

If I were a millionaire, I would donate some of my money to charities.

If we were in New York, we would be able to go to the concert in Times Square.

We can also use this structure to give advice.

If I were you, I would consult the manager.

If I were in your place, I would not go to the party.

Third Conditionals

Third Conditionals (Unreal Conditionals) are used to express a condition in the past that did not happen. That is why there is no possibility for this condition.

We use the past perfect in the impossible past condition and would have + the past participle for the result.


If I had won the lottery, I would have bought a car.

If she had worked harder at school, she would have gotten better grades.

If I hadn’t missed the bus, I wouldn’t have been late for class.

We can also use should have, could have, might have instead of would have.


If you had bought a lottery ticket, you might have won.

If you were not so angry about it, he might have listened.

Mixed Conditionals

Mixed Conditionals are unreal conditionals whose time in the if clause is different from the time in the main clause.


If we had looked at the map, we wouldn’t be lost. (If clause: past, main clause: present)

If I had learned to swim, I might be in the pool now. (If clause: past, main clause: present)

If Anna had gotten the job, she would be moving to Boston. (If clause: past, main clause: future)

If I had enough money, I would have bought that car we saw yesterday. (If clause: present, main clause: past)

If I didn’t have an assignment to submit on Monday, I would have accepted the invitation to the party. (If clause: future, main clause: past)

If I were going to the baseball game tonight, I would be very excited. (If clause: future, main clause: present)

If she knew Chinese, the company would send her to Beijing. (If clause: present, main clause: future)

Check Your Understanding

Which sentence is more likely to be spoken by a presidential candidate?

  1.  If I become President, I will introduce a bill to change the social security system.
  2.  If I became President, I would introduce a bill to change the social security system.

Which sentence refers to a condition that happens all the time?

  1. If I don’t have a cup of coffee in the morning, I’ll fall asleep.
  2. If I don’t have a cup of coffee in the morning, I fall asleep.

Which sentence expresses an imaginary situation that did not happen?

  1. If Princess Diana had not been chased by the paparazzi, she would not have died.
  2. If I were a factory owner, I would improve the safety conditions of the factory.

Kayla | 2019

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