Conditional sentences rules

Conditional sentences rules


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What’s the conditional in English?

We use the conditional in English to talk about something that might happen if something else were to happen. It can be a possibility real or imaginary:

  •  If I have enough money, I will go to Japan. 

To make a conditional sentence in English you must use’if’.

How to form the conditional in English

There are four types of conditionals in English:

The ‘zero’ conditional

Both parts of the sentence are at the present simple:

If + simple presentsimple present

It is often used to tell general truths:

  • If you heat ice, it melts.
  • If you mix red and yellow, you get orange.

It is also used to give instructions, with the imperative in the second part of the sentence:

  • If Paul phones, tell him to meet me at the bar.
  • If you‘re not sure what to do, ask Kevin.

The type 1 conditional

The first part of the sentence with ‘if’ is in the present simple, and the second part is in the future simple:

If + simple presentSimple future

  • If it rains, you will get wet.
  • If you don’t hurry, we will miss the train.

Here, we are talking about the present or the future and the situation is real. We’re talking about things that have a probable outcome.

The type 2 conditional

The first part of the sentence with ‘if’ is in the simple past, and the second part is in the present conditional:

If + simple pastPresent conditional

  • If it rained, you would get wet.
  • If you went to bed earlier, you wouldn’t be so tired.
  • If I knew her name, I would tell you.

With the type 2 conditional, we are talking about things that could have happened and their probable consequences.

The type 3 conditional

The first part of the sentence in ‘if’ is past perfect, and the second part is perfect conditional:

If + past perfectPerfect conditional

  • If it had rained, you would have got wet
  • If you had worked harder, you would have passed the exam.

We are talking about something that could have happened in the past, and its probable outcome in the past.

⚠ REMEMBER!

There is a last type of conditional in “if” where types two and three are mixed: the first part of the sentence in “if” is in past perfect, and the second part is in present conditional:

If + past perfect + present conditional

  • If I had worked harder at school, I would have a better job now.
  • If we had looked at the map, we wouldn’t be lost.

In the latter case, we are talking about something that could have happened in the past and would have had a probable consequence now.

⚠ ‘If I was’ or ‘If I were’ ?

Take a look at the following examples:

  • If I was rich, I would buy a house.

OR

  • If I were rich, I would buy a house.

If I were” is the correct way to say it. However, ‘If I was’ is commonly used in spoken English.

So, if in doubt (for example, when speaking during an oral exam for example), use ‘If I were...’ !

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