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What Are the Different Types of Conditional Sentences in English?

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Understanding conditional sentences is important to communicate effectively in English. Below, we’ll explain what conditional sentences are and go over the four different types.

White text over orange background reads "What are conditional sentences?"
There are four different types of conditional sentences.
English Conditionals: Quick Summary

Conditional sentences express known truths or hypothetical past and future situations. The four different types are

  • Zero conditional: If you jump in a pool, you get wet.
  • First conditional: If you run a mile in the scorching heat, you will sweat.
  • Second conditional: If I were you, I would apply for that job.
  • Third conditional: If I had known you were coming, I would have made more food.

What Are Conditional Sentences, and What Are the Different Types?

Conditional sentences are grammatical/syntactical structures that include statements that express conditional or hypothetical situations. These sentences typically begin with “if,” and they always have a subordinate clause that sets the condition and a main clause that states the result of the consequence.

If the subordinate clause is at the beginning of a conditional sentence, then a comma after it is required. However, no comma is needed if the subordinate clause is at the end of a sentence.

Graphic shows examples of conditional sentences. One with the if-clause at the beginning of the sentence, and the other with it at the end.
The sentences above are examples of first conditional sentences.

There are four different types of conditional sentences:

  1. Zero conditional sentences express general truths or known facts.
  2. First conditional sentences express possible future events or actions that are likely to happen.
  3. Second conditional sentences express unlikely or unrealistic future events.
  4. Third conditional sentences express hypothetical past outcomes or consequences.

If I were you, I’d stick around and keep reading this post because we will elaborate on the different types of conditional sentences and show you the verb tenses needed to structure them correctly.

Let’s get started!

Zero Conditional Examples

Zero conditional sentences state known facts, general truths, and things that regularly occur.

The subordinate clause (sometimes referred to as the if-clause) and main clause are usually in the simple present tense.

If you go to bed late, you are grumpy in the morning.
You are grumpy in the morning if you go to bed late.

The word when can also be used with these types of conditional sentences.

When you go to bed late, you are grumpy in the morning.
You are grumpy in the morning when you go to bed late.

While zero conditionals typically use the present simple tense in both clauses to express constant truths or cause-and-effect relationships, other tenses can occasionally be used. However, using the simple future tense in the main clause is incorrect.

When you go to bed late, you will be grumpy in the morning.

Here are a few more examples of zero conditional sentences.

  • If you leave ice out on a warm day, it melts.
  • When you add sugar to coffee, it becomes sweet.
  • Water boils if you heat it to 212 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • It gets dark outside when the sun sets.
  • If there is smoke in the house, the fire alarm goes off.
Graphic shows example of conditional sentence: If you mix red and blue, you end up with purple.
Zero conditionals state facts or things that regularly occur, like habits.

First Conditional Examples

First conditional sentences express realistic future situations contingent on something else happening.

The subordinate clause has to be in the simple present tense, followed by a modal verb (like will) or an imperative verb, and the main clause in the simple future tense.

If it rains, I will use my umbrella.
Keep in Mind

Zero conditional sentences express something that is a fact or guaranteed. First conditional sentences state something likely to happen.

Below are a few additional examples of first conditional sentences.

If Thomas studies hard, he could pass the test.
If you do not water the plants, they will shrivel up and die.
If you exercise, you should have more energy.
You will catch the next bus if you leave right now.
I will call you if I leave the meeting on time.
Graphic shows example of a first conditional sentence: If they win the game, we will celebrate tonight.
Remember: If the subordinate clause is at the beginning of the sentence, it must be followed by a comma. 

Second Conditional Examples

Second conditional sentences express hypothetical or unrealistic present or future events.

To structure these sentences correctly, the subordinate clause should be in the simple past tense. Then, add a past-tense modal verb (like would, should, or could) followed by the base form of the main verb.

If I won the lottery, I would buy one hundred mansions.

The chances of anyone winning the lottery are extremely unlikely, which is why the example above is considered second conditional.

Here are some more examples of second conditional sentences:

If she had more free time, she would get a pet.
If Quincy had known about the party, he could have come.
If I could speak Spanish, I would apply for that position.
I would see a doctor if I were you.
She would travel the world if she had a passport.
Graphic shows example of second conditional sentence that reads: If I found a magic l lamp, I'd ask for more wishes.
First conditional sentences express likely future events, whereas second conditional sentences express unlikely future events. 

Third Conditional Examples

Lastly, third conditionals express hypothetical past situations. In other words, they explain how present scenarios would have been altered if something had happened differently in the past.

These sentences are structured using the past perfect tense (had + past participle) in the subordinate clause, a past modal auxiliary verb, the helping verb have, and the past participle in the main clause. For example:

If Jack and Jill had left on time, they would have caught the train.

In the sentence above, the third conditional explains that Jack and Jill could have left on time, but didn’t. As a result, they didn’t catch the train, but they could have.

Here are a few more examples of third conditional sentences.

If you had listened to me, you wouldn’t have been in this predicament.
If Clara had saved more money, she could have bought the bag she wanted.
If I had known you were arriving today, I would have picked you up.
We could have seen the show if we had bought the tickets in advance.
I would not have been cold right now if I had brought a sweater.
Graphic shows example of third conditional sentence: If I had jumped in the pool, I would have regretted it.
Third conditional sentences express hypothetical past situations. 

Why Understanding Conditional Sentences is Vital for English Fluency

Perhaps you’re wondering if it’s even worth bothering to learn the different types of conditional sentences in English, and the fact is, it is. Knowing the difference between conditionals allows you to express and understand the nuances of the English language. So, if you’d like to communicate as effectively as possible, it’s best to familiarize yourself with this subject.

Another way to communicate as clearly and fluently as possible is to use LanguageTool as your on-demand writing assistant. As an advanced spell and grammar checker, this tool can ensure flawless text and optimal word choice. Did we mention that it supports over 30 languages and dialects? Try it today!

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