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Conditional Sentences

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English

All of us use conditional sentences frequently in daily life. Here's one:

If you don't read this article, you'll have no understanding of conditional sentences!

What are conditional sentences?

A conditional sentence is one in which one part of the sentence is dependent on another part.

Here are some examples:

  • If we lived in Spain, we could sunbathe all day long.
  • When water reaches 100°C, it boils.
  • If Jane doesn't eat, she will go hungry.
  • If you want to go out tonight, you must clean your room.
  • When John drinks, he vomits.

You can see that each sentence has three parts - the 'if' clause, the 'consequence' clause, and the conditional conjunction (eg. if, as long as, when, therefore etc.).

An example of a conditional sentence, freepik.com

We can reverse the order of a conditional sentence, so that the consequence comes first.

For example:

  • Will you be ready if I swing round at 7pm?
  • Are you going to be upset if Michael leaves early?
  • Mum says she won't be coming if Dad is there.

The biggest indicator that a sentence is a conditional sentence is that it contains the word If. The conditional clause is called the if-clause for this reason. However, there are conditional sentences that do not require the word if.

The biggest indicator of a conditional sentence, flaticon.com

Types of conditional sentence

In English, there are three types of basic conditional sentence. These different types reflect the level of probability. They are the first, second, and third conditionals. There are two other types of conditionals, which we'll look at at the end of this article: zero conditionals and mixed conditionals.

The first conditional

The first conditional is formed by combining If + verb + comma + will + verb. It is used to indicate a mid to high level of probability. In day to day use, it is used to make promises, predictions, and threats.

  • If I go to sleep now, I will be well-rested for tomorrow.
  • If John starts working from next week, he'll have lots of money by next year.
  • Mary will need a bigger bag if she plans to take all that food home.
  • If you do not comply, I will have no choice but to proceed with the charges.

Here, the conditional clause remains in the simple present tense, but the consequence clause is in the future tense (will+ verb).

The second conditional

The second conditional is used for either 'unlikely' or 'improbable' events in the future. Events such as winning the lottery or meeting an A-list celebrity at the corner shop are extremely unlikely. The second conditional is used to express unlikely outcomes, fantasies, hyperboles.

  • If you met Justin Bieber at his concert, I would die!
  • She would be shocked if I won the Olympics.
  • If I had a billion pounds, I would buy a small island.
  • If I were her, I would never speak to him again.

The conditional clause is in the simple past tense (eg. you met, if Adam broke up, if I had , if I won ). The consequence clause uses a modal auxiliary (would / could / might) plus a main verb.

If I were you...

It is important to note that in second conditional sentences, we use the subjunctive mood. This means we use the subjunctive form of the verb 'to be' rather than the past tense. Have a look at these examples:

If I were you I wouldn't care.

If you were me what would you have done?

If she were in a movie she would be the main character.

If he were a billionaire you would never need to work again.

If we were born in a different country life might be different.

If they were us they might understand our predicament.

Notice the use of 'were' after each pronoun rather than 'was' - this is the correct use of the subjunctive mood. To say 'If I was you I wouldn't care' is a non-standard form.

Keep the subjunctive mood in mind when using second conditional sentences!

Third Conditional Sentences

Third conditional sentences are used when the event has passed and therefore the consequence cannot occur.

Uses: Reflections on past, regrets ...

  • If you had told me you need it, I would have brought the charger.
  • Mary could have reconsidered if John had not lied about the circumstances.
  • If she had arrived five minutes earlier, she would have seen the entire exchange.
  • If I knew you wanted to come, I would have invited you.

The conditional clause is now in the past perfect (eg. had told, have reconsidered, had arrived, have invited). The consequence clause is a modal + perfect tense (modal auxiliary verb + have + past participle). This can be seen in the examples: would have brought, could have reconsidered etc ...

Mixed conditionals

There are instances where conditional sentences are mixed. For example:

  • If I had learned to speak French as a child, I would be a French speaker today.

This is different from a third conditional sentence, because although it has a conditional clause in the past perfect tense, the consequence clause is in the present conditional tense not the past tense.

  • If you typed out the report yesterday, I will be ready to review it by tomorrow

The conditional clause is in the simple past tense, like in second conditional sentences, but the consequence clause is in the future tense, like in first conditional sentences.

Zero Conditional Sentences

Zero Conditional Sentences are used to discuss truths. This can range from scientific facts to general truths. In these conditional sentences, the conditional is either 100% likely or extremely likely.

Uses: Habits, Scientific Facts, Rules, General Truths...

  • When you eat, your body digests your food.
  • If you don't shower, you smell.
  • If you don't drink, you get dehydrated.
  • When I'm tired, I go to sleep.

In Zero Conditional Sentences, If andWhen are used interchangeably because there is 100% certainty that the consequence will occur.

The conditional clause and the consequence clause are always in simple present tense , which is the tense used in English language to describe a continual event.

Therefore, it is: If you do not drink, you are dehydrated.

NOT: If you do not drink, you will be dehydrated.

Conditional Sentences - Key takeaways

  • A conditional sentence is one in which one statement is dependent on another statement; one thing must occur in order for something else to occur.
  • Conditional sentences have three components - the conditional clause (or the action ), the main cause ( consequence ), and the conditional conjunction.
  • In English, there are four types of conditional sentences - zero / first / second / third conditional sentences
  • Conditional sentences reflect the degree to which the conditional is likely to happen .

Conditional Sentences

A conditional sentence is one in which one statement is dependent upon another statement.

In English language, there are four types of conditional sentences - zero conditional sentences, first conditional sentences, second conditional sentences, and third conditional sentences.

An example of a conditional sentence is:

If it is sunny today, I will bring my sunglasses.

Final Conditional Sentences Quiz

Question

Fill in the blanks: A conditional sentence is one in which one statement is _________ upon another statement.

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Answer

Dependent.

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Question

What are the three components of conditional sentences? 

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Answer

The main clause, the conditional clause, and the conditional conjunction.

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Question

Which type of conditional sentence is most frequently used in making 'promises, predictions, likely outcomes, and threats'?

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Answer

First conditional.

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Question

In this sentence: If you want to go out tonight you must clean your room.


Which is the conditional clause and which is the main clause?

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Answer

'If you want to go out tonight' is the conditional clause and 'you must clean your room' is the main clause.

Show question

Question

In this sentence: Mum says she won't be coming if Dad is in attendance.

Which is the conditional clause and which is the main clause?

Show answer

Answer

'If Dad is in attendance' is the conditional clause and 'Mum says she won't be coming' is the main clause.

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Question

What type of conditional sentence is this?:


If I watch too much television I get a headache.

Show answer

Answer

Zero conditional sentence - the conditional is a habitual fact and is thus extremely likely.

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Question

Which of these is a second conditional sentence?:


- When I eat too much cake I fall ill.

- If you go in the kitchen you'll be able to grab the last one. 

- I might have been able to change clothes had you told me we were swimming.

- If I had a penny for every lie you tell I'd be a billionaire.

Show answer

Answer

'If I had a penny for every lie you tell I'd be a billionaire.' is the second conditional sentence because it is extremely unlikely to ever occur. Second conditional sentences are used for unlikely outcomes, fantasies, hyperboles etc.

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Question

Fill in the blanks: _____ Conditional Sentences are used when the event has passed and therefore the consequence cannot occur. The indication is that it was, but is no longer, a possibility. 

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Answer

Third

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Question

Which of these is not a conditional conjunction?

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Answer

Because

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Question

Complete the sentence: 

Conditional sentences reflect the degree to which the conditional is...

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Answer

likely to happen.

Show question

Question

What type of conditional sentence is this?:

If I had known you wanted to come I would have invited you.

Show answer

Answer

Third Conditional Sentence.

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Question

Andy has threatened to fire Mary if she does not work harder. What type of conditional sentence is used most commonly for threats?

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Answer

First conditional sentences are used most commonly for threats. Eg. If you do not work harder I will fire you.

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Question

Jessica has told Cameron an indisputable fact. What conditional sentence is she likely to have used?

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Answer

She likely used a Zero Conditional Sentence, which is most commonly used for truths and general facts. Eg. Children must eat if they are to grow big and strong.

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Question

What type of conditional sentence is this?:

Toby would be horrified if Jane went missing.

Show answer

Answer

Zero Conditional Sentence.

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Question

Fill in the blanks: __________ _________ are connectives  that link the main clause to the conditional clause. 

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Answer

Conditional conjunctions

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