Conditionals, also known as “if” sentences are used to express things that will, could or would have happened “if” a certain condition was met. On this page, we will be looking at the first two types of conditional sentences, namely; zero conditional and first conditional.
Condition (noun) /kənˈdɪʃən/: 1. A state or situation which something is in. 2. A state or situation that must exist before something else can happen.
Construction of conditional sentence: Conditional clause (if clause) + main clause (result or consequence clause). The clauses can be alternated, meaning that you can also construct it in this way; “main/result clause + conditional/if clause.” If you start a sentence with a conditional clause, it is good to use a comma after it. If you begin a sentence with the main clause, you need not place a comma after it.
Example: “If you remind me, I will call him.” / “I will call him if you remind me.” [Reminding me is the condition, calling him is the result of that condition being met. In other words, if the condition is not met, the result will not be the same.]
To simplify things, I will refer to the conditional clause as the “if” clause and the main clause as the result clause.
Conditional 0 / Zero Conditional
This is called a zero conditional because it is not a real conditional. The zero conditional states facts, there is no doubt about the possibility of the result, whereas real conditionals are not as concrete. We use the zero conditional to speak about truths which occur in the present, in general, often or always.
Construction of zero conditional: If + simple present tense, simple present tense. (If this happens, this is the result).
“If you call me, I answer.” – If clause [if + simple present] + result clause [simple present]. This can be said by someone who always or usually answers their phone.
“If you sneeze, your eyes close.” – If clause [if + simple present] + result clause [simple present]. Although some people can sneeze with their eyes open, the sentence in the example is true for most people.
“A car stops if it runs out of gas.” – Result clause [simple present] + if clause [if + simple present]. This is an accepted truth. *Note: To ‘run out of’ something means to have nothing left of that thing.
“If you don’t eat, you get hungry.” – If clause [if + simple present] + result clause [simple present]. This is an accepted truth.
“The door doesn’t open if you don’t push it.” – Result clause [simple present] + if clause [if + simple present]. This can be used when speaking about a door that only opens when you push it.
Because this is not a real conditional, the “if” in the conditional clause can be replaced with “when” and the meaning will not be altered. “If” can only be replaced by “when” in the zero conditional.
“If you sneeze, your eyes close.” / “When you sneeze, your eyes close.”
Conditional 1 / First Conditional
The first conditional is also known as the “future conditional’ because it expresses the probability of something happening in the future, if the necessary conditions are met. We use the first conditional to express things that have a real possibility of occurring. There is a high possibility of the conditional action (‘if’ clause) happening, but there is still a chance of it not happening. Its occurrence or non-occurrence will affect the future result. With the first conditional, we can give advice, make predictions and promises.
Construction of first conditional: If + simple present tense, simple future tense. (If this happens, this will be the result).
“If you eat all of your vegetables, I will give you ice cream.” – If clause [if + simple present] + result clause [simple future]. This is an example of a parent convincing a child to eat their vegetables. The vegetables are already in front of the child, therefore the probability of he/she eating them are very high.
“If he gets fifty more downloads, he‘ll reach his target.” – If clause [if + simple present] + result clause [simple future]. If he has already got 1150 downloads, and his target is 1200 downloads, then it is very possible for him to get 50 more.
“We will go to the beach if the weather changes.” – Result clause [simple future] + if clause [if + simple present]. This can be used by someone who lives in a place where the weather changes often, or when there is a high probability of the weather changing.
*Note: High probability is different from certainty. If you say “when the weather changes,” you are expressing certainty; there is no doubt in your mind that the weather will change. However, saying “if the weather changes” suggests that you are not completely sure that it will change, but you know that there is a very good chance of that happening. Therefore, you should not replace “if” with “when” in the first conditional, because even though the sentence is correct, the meaning is different.
“If you don’t study for your exams, you will fail.” – If clause [if + simple present] + result clause [simple future]. This can be addressed to a student who has the necessary resources and time for studying. There is a high possibility of the person studying, but if they don’t they will fail.
“Our business won’t succeed if we don’t get enough investors.” – Result clause [simple future] + if clause [if + simple present]. In this case, there is a possibility of getting investors, but it is not guaranteed that they will be enough.
*Note: With conditionals 1, 2 and 3, you can replace the modal verb in order to reduce the level of certainty in the result clause. The sentence, “If you don’t study for your exams, you will fail,” guarantees failure as a result of not studying. Whereas, “If you don’t study for your exams, you might/could fail,” makes failure only a possibility, not a certainty.