When we use conditionals, it’s generally because we are leaving the realm of the real and entering into possibilities, hypotheticals, and speculations. We use them to speak of situations that might happen in the future, or that could have happened (but didn’t) in the past. It can require a little extra brain power to think abstractly. So it seems appropriate that using conditionals in English is one of the more complicated grammatical tenses. Read on for a very quick overview of the four conditionals in English, then test yourself with a short quiz at the end. Think you understand it already? Skip straight to the quiz.
What are conditionals?
Conditionals are sentences with two halves, called clauses, that are closely related. They are usually referred to as the if clause and the main clause. There are four different kinds of conditionals:
- Zero Conditional: used to speak about facts, habits or actions that always have the same outcome. Learn more about zero conditional.
- First Conditional: used to speak about future events that are probable. Learn more about first conditional.
- Second Conditional: used to speak about future events that are not likely to happen. Learn more about second conditional.
- Third Conditional: used to speak about past events that could have happened, but didn’t. Learn more about third conditional.
|Zero conditional||If clause: present simple
Main clause: present simple
Facts, habits or actions that always have the same outcome.
|First conditional||If clause: present simple
Main clause: will + infinitive
Future situations that are probable or likely to occur.
|Second conditional||If clause: past simple
Main clause: would + infinitive
Future situations that are not likely to occur or present situations that are impossible.
|Third conditional||If clause: past perfect
Main clause: would have + participle
Past events that could have happened, but didn’t.
Or learn more about conditionals: