Trying to learn all of the English conditionals at once can be a daunting (and confusing!) task. So, I suggest splitting up the following 5 mini lessons over 5 days. That way, you can let your brain digest the information and maybe even get a chance to use your new knowledge in a conversation that day. If you need a native speaker to practice with, schedule a class with one of our friendly, professional English teachers! So, we’ll spend a day on each of the four conditional types, and then take a quiz at the end. Let’s get started!
Here’s a quick look at the types of conditionals:
|Conditional||Use||If clause (condition)||Main clause (result)|
|Zero||General truth, imperatives||Present simple||Present simple|
|First||Real and probable situations||Present simple||Future|
|Second||Unreal, imaginary situations||Past simple||Would + verb|
|Third||Unreal past situation and probable result in past||Past perfect||Would have + past participle|
DAY 1: ZERO CONDITIONAL
If/When + (subject) + (present simple), (subject) + (present simple)
If/When this thing happens, that thing happens.
If/When + (subject) + (present simple), (imperative)
If/When this thing happens, do this
Uses: We use zero conditional to talk about…
- Facts: If water temperature goes below 0°C, it freezes.
- General truths: When I take the train, I bring a book.
- Imperatives: If you see him, be nice.
Good to know:
- For all of the conditionals, we can flip the sentences around by putting the ‘main clause/result’ first and the ‘if/when clause’ second. Like this:
- (Subject) + (present simple) if/when (subject) + (present simple). That thing happens if/when this thing happens.
- We can use both ‘if’ and ‘when’ for zero conditional, but ‘if’ suggests that something happens less often. For example, If she gets a day off from work, she spends time with her son. This gives the idea that she doesn’t get many days off work. On the other hand, ‘when’ suggests that something happens more frequently. For example, When I read a book, I don’t listen to music. This gives the idea that I read books frequently.
Practice: For each exercise, write your answers in the comments section.
- When he (have/has) time, he (cook/cooks) dinner for me.
- We (go/went) to yoga together when we (had/have) the same day off.
- I _____ (to ride) my bike to work when I ____ (to have) time.
- If she _____ (to go) to a friend’s house, she usually (not/to bring) drinks.
- ____ (to read) the newspaper if there ___ (to be) nothing on TV.
Great job! Remember, the best way to learn is to practice, so try to use this grammar in a conversation today. Maybe you’ll talk to someone about what you usually read when you take the train. Need a chance to practice English with an LOI instructor? Schedule a conversation class today!
DAY 2: FIRST CONDITIONAL
If/When + (subject) + (present simple), (subject) + will/(be) going to + (verb)
If this thing happens, that thing will happen.
When this thing happens, that thing is going to happen.
Uses: We use first conditional to talk about…
- What you think will happen in a specific situation in the future: If the weather is nice, I will bike to work.
- When I have a day off work, I’m going to visit my sister.
Good to know:
- ‘If’ and ‘when’ can both be used in first conditional, but ‘if’ suggests that you’re not sure if something will happen or not. For example, If it is sunny tomorrow, I’ll wear sunglasses. We don’t know what the weather will be like. ‘When’ suggests that you know this thing will happen at some point. For example, When I see her, I’ll give that to her. You know you will see her at some point.
- Conditional modals:
- Could: We could go swimming if it’s sunny tomorrow.
- Should: If she asks you on a date, you should say yes.
- Might: If she invites me to the party, I might go.
Watch and listen: Here’s a quick, helpful video to clarify the uses of first and zero conditional.
- If we (went/go) to her house tonight, we (should take/should taken) a bottle of wine.
- Q: What are you going to do if it (snow/snows)?
- A: I’m just (going to shovel/will shovel) the snow away.
- When you ____ (to call) me, I ____ ____ (to give) you my address.
- We ____ ___ (to hug) her if we ___ (to see) her.
Excellent work with day 2! Only 3 more to go. Don’t forget to practice this conditional in a conversation today. Maybe you can talk with a colleague about what you will do in future scenarios at work. Don’t forget to schedule a conversation class with LOI if you’d like to practice with a native speaker.
DAY 3: SECOND CONDITIONAL
If + (subject) (past simple), (subject) would + (verb)
If this thing happened, that thing would happen.
If + (subject) (past simple), (subject) + would be + (verb)ing
If this thing happened, that thing would be happening.
Watch and learn:
- What we would generally do in imaginary situations: If I won the lottery, I would buy a vacation home.
Good to know:
- We can’t use ‘when’ since we’re talking about imaginary situations that probably won’t happen
- It is considered grammatically incorrect to use ‘was,’ in this conditional. For example:
- If he were rich, he’d buy a car.
- If he were rich, he’d be buying a car.
- Conditional modal verbs:
- Might: If he had time, he might be able to do it.
- Could: If I had a lot of money, I could take us to the beach.
- Should: If she asked you to help, you should help her.
Practice: Fill in the gaps below. You’ll use a verb in the past simple for the first part, followed by a modal verb in the second part of the sentence. (See Paul’s full second conditional lesson here!)
2. If you _____ more, you ____ be healthier.
3. If I ___ more money, I ______ work so much.
4. If you ____ more money, you ____ have to work so much.
5. If he ____ a lot of English classes, his English _____ be great.
Complete the sentences below.
1. If I had a million dollars, _____________________.
2. If you were smart, ____________________.
3. ________________________, I would be happy.
4. _________________________, I would travel the world.
5. _________________________, I wouldn’t study English.
Now, practice with Beyoncé: (See the full lesson here!)
- If I were a boy I’d _______out of bed in the morning and go.
- If I were a boy _______ drink beer with the boys.
- If I were a boy I’d ______I could understand. (Note: could is the participle hear.)
- If I were a boy, I swear to you, I would ______ a better man.
- ……______ listen to her.
- If I were a boy I’d ______off my phone.
- …____put myself first.
You’ve had lots of practice today. Great work! Remember to reinforce all this new knowledge in a conversation sometime today!
DAY 4: THIRD CONDITIONAL
If + (subject) + (past perfect), (subject) + would have + (past participle)
If this thing had happened, this thing would have happened.
If (subject) + (past perfect), (subject) + would have been + (verb)ing
If this thing had happened, this thing would have been happening.
- Imaginary situations in the past: If I had won the lottery last week, I would have bought a house.
- What you would have done differently: If I had known better, I would have payed more attention in school.
Good to know:
- Only use ‘if’ to discuss imaginary situations
- Conditional modals:
- Could have: I could have practiced Spanish if I had gone on the trip.
- Should have: If I had had money, I should have gone to the concert.
- Might have: If I had had time off work, I might have gone home for the holidays.
- If he had (had/has) more time, he (could have go/could have gone) to the gym.
- You (would have read/would had read) more as a child if you (hasn’t/hadn’t) played so many sports.
- If I ___ ______ (to work) harder, I _____ ____ ____ (to make) more money.
- We _______ ____ ____ (not/to do) it if we ___ ____ (to know) it would upset you.
- If you ___ _______ (to decide) to move to Europe, what city _____ you ____ ______ (to choose)?
Awesome! You’ve almost completed the five day challenge. For a little something extra today, try this 3rd conditionals quiz!
DAY 5: PUT IT ALL TOGETHER!
Congratulations, you’ve made it to the fifth day! Hopefully by now you’re feeling pretty confident with all of the conditionals. Today we’ll put all that knowledge to the test with a quiz and yet another challenge.
- If the weather is nice tomorrow, he ____ ____ (to take) her out for a picnic.
- I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you were allergic to peanuts. If I ___ _____ (to know), I _____ ____ ____ (to tell) you.
- (If/When) I go out to lunch, I usually go to the Thai place down the street.
- If I ___ (to have) enough money, I _____ __ (to go) to Canada. Unfortunately, I don’t have any money!
- She doesn’t like running, and she thinks it’s really boring. (If/When) she goes running, it is a very short distance.
- Please ___ (to set) the table when the guests ______ (to arrive).
- We _____ __ ______ (to be laying) on the beach right now if we ____ (to be) still on holiday.
- My friend is always texting. (If/When) she gets a text message, she writes back immediately.
- I love to go running! When I ____ (to have) enough energy, I ___ (to run) in the park.
- I really wanted to go running with my friend last night, but I was too tired. If I ___ ___ (to have) enough energy, I _____ ____ ____ (to go) with her.
- A: I’m sorry, I don’t know what he got you for Christmas. B: _____ you ____ (to tell) me if you ____ (to know)?
- I’m not a man, but if I ____ (to be) a man, my name _____ __ (to be) Derrick.
- It’s a shame Phil is not here. If he ____ (to be) here, he _____ ____ (can/to cook) us something nice.
- If you ____ (to help) me carry these boxes, I ____ ___ (to buy) you a beer later.
- If you ___ (to eat) too much, you ___ (to get) sick.
Don’t forget that singing is also a great way to remember grammar, learn new vocabulary and practice fluency. So, review all the conditionals with these hit songs!
If you just can’t get enough of conditionals, don’t worry, here’s a bonus challenge for you. It’s a short video about how we mix our tenses when using conditionals. Watch it and try the exercise below. (Click here for Paul’s full post).
1. If you __________ (insulted) him yesterday, he _______ __ ____ to the wedding tomorrow.
2. If she __________ (accepts) the promotion, she ____ __ ____ to Brazil in 2015. (future using will)
3. I ________ ______ (speak) fluent Spanish, if I ____ lived in Spain for 10 years.
4. He _____ _____ ____ (left), if he ____ _____ (known) you were coming.