Conditional Sentences

One of the most important grammar points to learn in English is Conditionals. There are 5 types, divided into...

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Conditional Sentences 1

One of the most important grammar points to learn in English is Conditionals. There are 5 types, divided into the Zero, First, Second, Third and mixed Conditionals. Every conditional sentence is divided into two parts – the “if-clause” which gives the condition and the second part which gives the result of that condition.

The Zero Conditional talks about a condition and result that is always true- always certain. We use the present tense in both parts of the conditional sentence. An example could be: “If you heat ice, it melts.” Ice always melts if you heat it, so the condition always has the same result – it’s a fact.

The First Conditional shows us something which is a real possibility. We speak about a condition in the present which will have a result on the future- and this result is a real possibility. For example, if I am at home and I am running late, there is a real possibility that I might miss the bus- “If I don’t hurryI will miss the bus”. We use the present tense to give the condition and the future to show the result. In some cases we can substitute “Will” in the result with “Shall”, “Can” or “May”, depending on the context of the sentence. An example of this could be a mother telling her child that she will give a reward for good behaviour – “If you behave, you can go out tonight.”

The Second Conditional, like the First Conditional, also speaks about the future, but this time the possibility of the condition happening is an unreal one- almost like a dream or a wish which is very improbable. The “if- clause” or condition here uses the past tense, while the result of the condition is formed by using “Would” together with a “base verb” or “infinitive”. For example “If I won the lottery, I would travel around the world”- winning the lottery is very improbable so therefore actually using your winnings to travel around the world is highly improbable. As in the First Conditional, we can substitute “Would” with “Should”, “Could” or “Might”- “If I won the lottery, I could go on a long holiday.”

The Third Conditional goes a bit further than the Second Conditional, in a sense that in the Second Conditional what you want is highly improbable, but in the Third Conditional what you are talking about is absolutely impossible. Unlike the previous conditionals, the Third Conditional focuses on a past condition that didn’t happen. The “if- clause” is in the past perfect, whereas the result is formed using “Would have” together with the “Past Participle” – “If I had won the lottery, I would have bought a new car.” Here, I know that I haven’t won the lottery as it is now in the past, so therefore, I can’t buy a new car. We can substitute “Would have” with “Should have”, “Could have” or “Might have”- “If I had known you were at the party, I might have come”- I didn’t know you were at the party and so I didn’t go.

The Mixed Conditionals are the ones that normally people tend to confuse. There are two types and they talk about two different times in the “if- clause” and the result, hence the name “mixed”.

Type A shows us a present result of a past condition. We form it by using the past perfect for the “if-clause” and the present conditional for the result. Here we talk about an unreal situation in the past and its result on the present. This result is contrary to reality as the condition is speculation. “If we had planned the party better, we wouldn’t have this problem now”, which means that we didn’t plan it well and so now things aren’t going well at the party.

Type B shows us a past result of a present or continuing condition. The past simple is used to show the condition and the perfect conditional shows the result. The condition is something which is constant- something permanent- whereas the result shows us a recent action. “If I wasn’t so scared of cockroaches, I would have stepped on it”- my fear is constant in a sense that I was afraid of them and still am, and so I can’t even bring myself close enough to kill one.

Although conditional sentences may seem complicated, they aren’t that difficult to use or follow as long as you use the right form in the right context. It’s important to think about what time you are talking about and what the results were. 

Written by English Forward
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