Simple rule in Conditionals or If Clauses


What is a conditional?

conditional is a sentence or part of a sentence that expresses a condition. It usually begins with the words “when,” “if” and “unless.”

condition is what must happen before something else can happen.

Examples of conditionals (note that the conditions are in italics):

I will come if I have enough time. 
(I am not sure that I will come. It depends on something else.)

She would tell me if she knew. 
(She doesn’t know.)

Unless she agrees to pay us we will not take the job.
(She must agree to pay before we take the job.)

They will come when I call them.
(They will not come before I call them.)

Types of Conditionals

There are four basic conditionals in English, or in other words: there are four ways to express that something is dependent on something else.

a. The Zero Conditional

We use the zero conditional when talking about things which are always true, or generally true.


If + Simple Present, + Simple Present


Simple Present + If + Simple Present 


  • If you boil an egg, it becomes solid.
  • If you heat something, it becomes hotter.
  • I always listen to music if I jog.

We can use “when” instead of “if.”

  • When I see Karen I always feel better.
  • When she feels sick she lies in bed.
  • He starts yelling only when he gets really desperate.

b. The First Conditional

We use first conditional when talking about possible future events.

If + Simple Present, + Will (simple future)


Will (simple future) + If + Simple Present


  • Lisa will be very happy if she wins the prize.
  • If it rains, then we will stay at home.
  • You will always be able to take another test if you fail.
  • If I see Sam, I will ask him to give you a call.

You can use these modal verbs instead of will: shall, can, may.

  • If you fail, you can always try again.
  • If you finish everything on time, you may go home earlier.
  • We shall meet on Sunday, if it’s alright with you.

c. The Second Conditional

We use the second conditional when talking about future events that are not likely to happen.


If + Simple Past, + Would + Base Form


Would + Base Form + If + Simple Past


  • If I won a million dollars, I would travel around the world.
    (There is a small possibility that I would actually win.)
  • If I met him again, I would tell him the truth.
    (There is a small possibility that I would actually meet him again.)
  • She would quit school if her parents agreed.
    (It is unlikely that her parents agree.)

We also use the second conditional when talking about things which are contrary to the present facts.


  • If she worked less, she wouldn’t be so tired.
    (In reality she doesn’t work less, so she is tired.)
  • You would see John if you were here now.
    (In reality you are not here now, so you don’t see John.)
  • If things were different, we would be happy.
    (In reality things are not different, and we are not happy.)
  • We would be good friends if she were nicer.
    (In reality she is not nice, and we are not good friends.)

You can use these modal verbs instead of would
should, could, might.


  • If she didn’t have her job, she could come with us to the North Pole.
  • If they wanted to move, they could sell the house to us.

The verb BE

The verb BE has a special rule in this case.

Usually we say: I was, he was, she was, it was, we were, you were, they were.
However, in these cases, we use:
I were, he were, she were, it were, we were, you were, they were.
In other words: “were” is the only form.
If I were you I would apologize.
(In reality I am not you.)

I would fight back, if I were you.
(In reality I am not you.)

d. The Third Conditional

We use the third conditional when talking about things which are contrary to the past facts. In other words: events that did not happen in the past.


If + Past Perfect, + Would have + V3
Would have + V3 + If + Past Perfect


  • If I had woken up on time, I would have taken the bus.
    (What really happened was that I didn’t wake up on time, and so I didn’t take the bus.)
  • Tom would have helped us if he had known we were there.
    (What really happened was that he didn’t know we were there, and so he didn’t help us.)
  • If I had told Sarah the truth, I would have felt much better.
    (What really happened was that I didn’t tell Sarah the truth, and so I didn’t feel so good.)
  • If it hadn’t rained yesterday, we would have enjoyed a nice picnic.
    (What really happened was that it rained yesterday, and we didn’t go for a picnic.) 

English Conditionals Summary Table

ConditionalTime FrameProbabilityExample
First ConditionalFuturePossibleIf I meet Helen, I will invite her to the party.
Second ConditionalFutureUnlikelyIf I won the lottery, I would help the world.
Second ConditionalPresentUnreal/
If I had the money, I would lend it to you.
Third ConditionalPastImpossibleIf I had studied French, I would have known it.
Zero ConditionalAlways/GenerallyCertainIf you drop something, it falls.

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