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 present + simple 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 present + Simple 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 past + Present 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 perfect + Perfect 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.
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.
- 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...’ !