Conditional Sentences: Grammar Guide

by | Aug 12, 2023

Conditional Sentences: Grammar Guide – 

Conditional sentences are all about expressing possibilities. They include a main clause that offers the central content, and also a dependent clause that limits that content with a condition. For example:

  • If you spend time practicing conditional sentences, they become easier to understand.

“They become easier to understand” is the main clause (even though it has the pronoun ‘they’ for a subject) and “If you spend time practicing conditional sentences” is the dependent clause that limits the main one. We know the “if” clause is dependent because when you say it without the other clause, it’s not a complete sentence.

So far, this seems relatively simple. The difficulty is that there are four different types of conditional sentences, each with their own rules and purposes. Let’s take a look:

Conditional Sentences – “Type 0”

Just to make life a little more difficult for us, the first type of conditional sentence is confusingly called Type 0. Here’s what you need to know:

Type 0 Conditionals give situations that are always true if something happens. For example:

  • If he sees a spider, he screams and runs in circles. (He is certain to scream and run in circles if he sees a spider.)
  • I don’t like donuts if they have creme filling. (I am certain to dislike any donuts that have creme inside.)

Note: Type 0 Conditionals can usually be replaced with a time clause using ‘when’ without changing the meaning. For example:

  • I don’t like donuts when they have creme filling.

Type 0 Conditional is formed by the use of the present simple in the condition clause (which includes ‘if’ or ‘when’) plus present simple in the main clause. When the condition clause comes first, it requires a comma. However the condition clause can also go at the end of the sentence without a comma:

  • If my cousin comes to visit, we hide in the kitchen. or…
  • We hide in the kitchen if my cousin comes to visit.

Try these: 

  • If she _____________ (get) upset, she _____________ (start) shouting at everyone in the office. 

  • If we ________________ (not, have) other plans on Saturdays, we usually ________________ (sleep) all day.

(answers at the end of the article)

Conditional Sentences – “Type 1”

Often called the “real” conditional, Type 1 Conditionals are used for situations that are really, truly possible in the future, even though they may have never happened before in the past. In these sentences, if a certain condition is met, the main clause situation is very likely to happen. For example:

  • If it rains this afternoon, we are going to stay home and do nothing.
  • He will not have a good job interview if he doesn’t brush his teeth. 

    Note: In Conditional 1 we often use unless which means ‘if … not’:

    • He will not have a good job interview unless he brushes his teeth. 

    Type 1 Conditional is formed by the use of the simple present in the conditional clause followed by a simple future (with either ‘will or ‘be going to’) in the result clause. Like with Type 0, the conditional clause can go before or after the main clause (requiring a comma if it’s before): 

    • If he loses his car keys again, I’m not going to help him find them. or:
    • I won’t help him find them if he loses his car keys again.

    Try these: 

    • If we _____________________ (not, leave) right now, we _____________________ (miss) the start of the Taylor Swift concert.  

     

    • We ________________ (miss) the start of the Taylor Swift concert unless we _______________ (leave) now. 

    (answers at the end of the article)

    Conditional Sentences – “Type 2”

    Often called the “unreal” conditional, Type 2 is used for situations in the present or future that are either presently not possible or not likely to happen. Type 2 Conditionals provide an imaginary result for a given situation. They are different from Type 3 conditionals because the condition is about things happening now. For example:

    • My friends would cook meals more often if they had a bigger kitchen. (The truth is they don’t have a bigger kitchen, so they don’t cook meals often.)
    • If he didn’t watch scary movies at bedtime, he wouldn’t have trouble sleeping. (The truth is he does watch scary movies at bedtime, and he does have trouble sleeping.)

    Note: The verb ‘to be’, when used in the 2nd conditional, is always conjugated as ‘were’:

    • I could move to the countryside if I weren’t afraid of nature. (The truth is I am afraid of nature, so I believe that I can’t move to the countryside.)

    Type 2 Conditional is formed with the past simple in the conditional clause and would/could/might + ‘verb word’ in the main clause

    Try these: 

    • He _______________________ (retire) early if his wife _____________________ (get) a pay raise.  

    • If my ex-girlfriend _____________________ (invite) me to her wedding, I ___________________ (be) shocked.

    (answers at the end of the article)

     Conditional Sentences – “Type 3”

    Type 3 is often referred to as the “past” conditional because it concerns only past situations with imaginary results. Type 3 expresses a hypothetical, alternate past that did not truly happen. For example: 

    • If I had known you were coming, I would have baked a cake.
    • She would have been happier if she had left her boyfriend sooner. 

    Type 3 Conditional is formed by the use of the past perfect in the conditional clause and would/could/might + have + past participle in the result clause.

    Try these: 

    • If it _______________________ (be) warmer yesterday, we _______________________ (go) to the beach.

    • They _____________________ (move) to a different state if she _________________________ (not, get) her new job.  
    Practice Exercise Answers
    Type 0
    • If she gets upset, she starts shouting at everyone in the office.
    • If we don’t have other plans on Saturdays, we usually sleep all day.
    Type 1
    • If we don’t leave right now, we will miss / are going to miss the start of the Taylor Swift concert.  
    • We will miss / are going to miss the start of the Taylor Swift concert unless we leave now. 
    Type 2
    • He would / could / might retire early if his wife got a pay raise.  
    • If my ex-girlfriend invited me to her wedding, I would be shocked.
    Type 3
    • If it had been warmer yesterday, we would / could / might have gone to the beach.
    • They would / could / migh have moved to a different state if she had not gotten her new job.

    Thanks for spending time with this Conditional Sentence Grammar Guide! Feel free to share thoughts or questions in the comments section below.

    For more about using hypotheticals in English, you might enjoy this post (external link to ThoughtCo.)

    Also, be sure to see my favorite ESOL grammar resource: Grammar in Use (American English) by Raymond Murphy (available on Amazon)

     

    Finally, be sure to check out some of my other posts

     

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    Mark Pedrin

    Mark Pedrin

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    Mark is an English instructor and communication specialist. He loves helping people develop language skill and insight so that they can reach their personal and professional goals.