Conditional Clauses. Free English Lesson with Test and Certificate.
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How to use conditional clauses English
In the last lesson we covered clauses. Now you’ll see that conditional sentences can be used to join two clauses. For example, "if people eat too much pizza, they get fat." Conditional sentences can also indicate things that might happen.
For example, "if I were rich, I would buy a Ferrari."
There are four main types of conditional sentences in this lesson.
Your English lesson about Conditional Clauses
Welcome to the Conditionals lesson!
This lesson is a short ‘masterclass’ in using conditional statements. Knowing how to structure conditional statements will be valuable for your written and spoken English.
Conditional sentences include two clauses – an if clause and a main clause. Conditional sentences are often divided into four different types.
The first type we will look at is the Zero Conditional.
Zero conditional clauses
We can make a zero conditional sentence with two present simple verbs (one in the 'if clause' and one in the 'main clause'). Remember, the present simple is used in both clauses.
[If + present simple, .... present simple.]
More important than memorizing the rule, you should try and remember how it is used. This conditional is used when the result will always happen. So, if water reaches 100 degrees celsius, it always boils. It's a fact.
We use this type of sentence if we are speaking in general about something, not about one particular situation. The result of the 'if clause' is always the main clause. The “if” in this conditional can usually be replaced by “when” without changing the meaning.
Here are some examples:
If people eat too much, they get fat.
If you play with fire, you get burned.
Plants die if you don’t water them.
If you study hard, you get good grades in school.
If babies are hungry, they cry.
When babies are hungry, they cry.
Conditional Sentence Type 1 (first conditional)
This is often called the "real" conditional because it is used for real or possible situations. These situations take place if a certain condition is met. It is possible and also very likely that the condition will be fulfilled.
[if + simple present, + simple future]
[if + present simple, ... will + infinitive]
Type 1 conditional sentences are used to talk about things which might happen in the future. An action in the future will only happen if something else happens first. Of course, we can't know what will happen in the future, but this describes possible things, which are very likely to come true.
If I have enough time, I'll watch the football game.
The meaning in this example is that I might not have enough time, but if I do have the time I will almost certainly watch the game.
Notice that the first conditional describes a particular or specific situation, whereas the zero conditional describes what happens in general.
For example, the zero conditional looks like this:
If you eat too much cake, you get fat.
(In general, all people who eat too much cake are fat.)
The same sentence in the first conditional looks like this:
If you eat too much cake, you will get fat.
We use this form to talk about a specific person. You specifically (not everyone else) will get fat if you eat too much cake.
Here are some more examples of the first conditional:
If it rains, I won't go to the park.
If I finish my homework today, I'll go to the party tonight.
If I have enough money, I'll buy some new shoes.
She'll be late if the train is delayed.
She'll miss the bus if she doesn't leave soon.
If it’s a nice day tomorrow, we’ll go to the beach.
If I see her, I'll tell her.
Conditional Sentence Type 2 (second conditional)
This is often called the "unreal" conditional because it is used for unreal, impossible, or unlikely situations. This conditional provides an imaginary result for a given situation. It is very unlikely that the condition will be fulfilled.
[if + simple past, + would + base verb]
In conditional type 2, we usually (not always) use "were" instead of "was" in the if clause even if the pronoun is I, he, she or it.
If I were a millionaire, I would buy a castle.
Conditional sentences type 2 refer to an action in the present that could happen if the present situation were different. You don't really expect the situation to change because it is very unlikely. In addition, we can use it to talk about things in the future that are probably not going to be true.
So, the first conditional describes things that I think are likely to happen in the future, but the second conditional talks about things that you don't think will really happen.
For example (first conditional):
If she studies harder, she'll pass the exam.
(You think it's possible she will study harder, so she'll pass).
But (second conditional):
If she studied harder, she would pass the exam.
(You think that she won't study harder, or it's very unlikely, and so she won't pass).
More conditional clauses exercises
Here are some more examples of the second conditional:
She would travel all over the world if she were rich.
Where would you live if you could live anywhere in the world?
If you didn’t smoke so much, you’d feel a lot better.
If I won the lottery, I would buy a big house.
(You probably won't win the lottery)
She would pass the exam if she ever studied.
(She never studies, so this won't happen)
Here is one more common use of the second conditional. We can use it to talk about something in the present which is impossible, because it's not true. Have a look at these examples:
If it wasn’t raining right now, I would go to the park.
If I had his number, I would call him.
(You don't have his number now, so it's impossible for you to call him).
Conditional Sentence Type 3 (third conditional)
In this case, it is impossible that the condition will be met because it refers to the past.
Here’s the formula:
[if + past perfect, + would + have + past participle]
Conditional Sentences Type 3 refer to situations in the past. They express hypothetical results to past given situations.
If he had been careful, he wouldn't have had that terrible accident.
(Sometime in the past, he was careless. He drove too fast, so he had a terrible accident.)
She wouldn't have been tired if she had gone to bed earlier.
She would have become a teacher if she had gone to a better university.
He would have been on time for the interview if he had left the house at nine.
If we had taken a taxi, we wouldn't have missed the plane. *
If she had studied, she would have passed the exam *
(but, she didn't study and so she didn't pass).
If I hadn't eaten so much, I wouldn't have felt sick *
(but I did eat a lot, and so I did feel sick).
*Notice in the above sentences that we do not use a comma if the main clause is first and followed by the if clause. But, we put a comma after the if clause when it is written before the main clause.
It’s story time
Now that we’ve learned a lot about conditionals, let’s see how they are used in a short story. As you read the following story, pay attention to how the conditionals are used.
Anthony felt a little nervous. For many people, if they walk up to a homeless man sleeping on the street, they will be a little scared. Anthony didn’t know what to do if the man yelled at him. “If the man attacks me, I will run,” Anthony planned. He didn’t want to get hurt. But he knew that if he beat up a homeless man, it would look very bad.
Anthony was relieved when the man smiled and accepted the bottle of water he gave him. If Anthony hadn’t gotten over his fear, he would have never learned an important lesson that day.
The homeless man’s name was Jim. Anthony found out that if it weren’t for some bad luck and some bad decisions, Jim would have been a very successful doctor. Jim was going to medical school when his girlfriend became very sick. If her parents had had enough money, it wouldn’t have been a problem. But, her parents were very poor. Jim knew that if he didn’t help pay for the medical bills, she wouldn’t be able to get the care she needed. The problem was, he would not have enough time to study if he worked to pay for her medical bills. He decided to stop studying and get a job to help his girlfriend.
Jim continued his story, and he told Anthony how the medical care became more and more expensive, and the money he was making was not enough. At that point, Jim made a major mistake. He stole money from his job. If he hadn’t stolen the money, his life would have been different.
In the end, Jim was sent to jail, and when he finally got out, he couldn’t get a job because everyone saw him as a criminal. His girlfriend and his family were so ashamed of him that they refused to speak with him. With no job and no place to go, his only choice was to live on the streets.
After Anthony heard Jim’s story, he realized how important it is to make the right decisions in life. If you make one big mistake in life, everything changes.
That’s the end of the lesson on conditional clauses.
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