Understanding the Conditional Tense | Advancing your English Level

Welcome back to the Free English Lessons Blog Corner by Everywhere English. At Everywhere English, we are committed to your learning. As we focus on industry-specific English language lessons, we want to give you a head start with your skills. 

This week we take a different approach to your language skills where we will talk about conditional tenses. We will cover them all, so there’s a lot of information in this one! But don’t worry, take your time and take each one as it comes. 


What is the Conditional Tense?

Conditional sentences are statements that speculate known or hypothetical circumstances and their implications. A conditional clause (commonly referred to as the if-clause) and a consequence make up a complete conditional sentence. There are four types of conditional tenses.  It’s important to use the correct structure for each of these different conditional sentences because they express varying meanings. When either speaking or writing, you should pay attention to the verb tense when using different conditional tenses.

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The Zero Conditional

This conditional is used when the result will always happen. It’s a fact. I’m talking in general, not about one particular situation. The result of the ‘if clause’ is always the main clause.

For example: “If you don’t brush your teeth, you get cavities”. (It is always true, there can’t be a different result sometimes). “If I eat gluten, I am ill”. (This is true only for me, maybe, not for everyone, but it’s still true that I’m ill every time I eat gluten)

Tense structure: If + present simple, …. present simple.

When using the zero conditional, the correct tense to use in both clauses is the present simple. A common mistake is to use the simple future tense – don’t make this mistake! 

The First Conditional 

This conditional is used when we talk about things that might happen in the future. We can’t predict the future but we can use it to talk about likely events. This conditional tense is the most commonly used out of the four so it is vital you get the structure correct. 

Tense structure: If + present simple, will/won’t + verb.

Some examples of the first conditional include: 

  • If I pass this exam, I’ll celebrate.
  • If I pass this exam, I won’t have to do it again.

Like all conditional tenses, we can invert the structure. For example:

  •  I’ll celebrate If I pass this exam.
  • I won’t have to do it again If I pass this exam.

The important thing to remember with the first conditional is that we can never use “will” near “if”. “Will” can only come in the other part of the sentence.

The Second Conditional

And here is where it gets a little bit more complicated…. The second conditional has two uses. This conditional can be used when we talk about something in the future that is not likely to happen (perhaps a dream or a fantasy). This conditional can also be used to advise someone in the present time. 

Tense structure: if + past simple, …would + infinitive

First, we can use it to talk about things in the future that are probably not going to be true. Maybe I’m imagining some dream for example:

  • If I won the lottery, I would buy a big house. (I probably won’t win the lottery)

Second, We use it to give someone advice, especially if we want to be polite or professional, for example: 

  • If I were you, I wouldn’t go out with that man.

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The Third Conditional 

And now, we are on our final conditional tense! Phew! The third conditional is written like the second, but you will use “would have” in the sentence instead. This changes the tone of the sentence and implies that the action is no longer possible. This is in comparison to the second conditional where the action could still occur. It talks about the past. It’s used to describe a situation that didn’t happen, and to imagine the result of this situation.

Tense structure: if + past perfect, …would + have + past participle

Let’s give some examples for the last time, and everything will be a lot clearer: 

  • If I had cycled to work, I would have been late for the meeting. 
  • If you hadn’t studied for the IETLS exam, you would have not passed. 


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And That’s A Wrap….

Before we leave you, why don’t you try spotting the conditional tenses and revising them in some of our favourite songs? Try listening to “If I were a boy” by Beyonce, “Time After Time” by Cindy Lauper, and “Hero” by Enrique Iglesias. Remember that learning doesn’t have to be boring!

We hope you feel a little better about the conditional tense and you start using and practicing it in your day-to-day life. Keep an eye out on our Instagram and Facebook accounts to get the first look at our next blogs. 


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