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Conditional sentences generally describe a possible situation (If Jim forgets my birthday…) and the consequence/result of that situation if it indeed happens (…I will be very angry).

They can also be used to describe hypothetical situations (when we are only imagining something) in the present, past and future.


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Conditional constructions in English

Zero (if + present + present)

The zero conditional describes general facts, and scientific facts as well.

  • If we put ice cream in the sun, it melts.
  • If my son gets sick I always get sick too.
    1st (if + present + will)

    The first conditional describes a real possibility.

  • If Jim forgets my birthday, I will be very angry!
  • We’ll be able to make mojitos if Alex remembers to bring rum.
    2nd (if + past + would)

    The second conditional is used when we are just imagining something. As such, it’s often used to describe hypothetical (or unreal) situations. We can use it for the present or for the future.

  • If I won the lottery next Christmas, I would buy my mom a house!
  • If my mom was my teacher, I’m sure she would embarrass me every day.
    3rd (if + past perfect + would have done)

    We use the third conditional to communicate we are imagining something in the past that didn’t happen. It is important to understand that the 2nd conditional is used to speak about the present or the future, while the 3rd is only used to speak about the past.

  • If I had been invited to the party, I would have brought donuts. (Was I invited to the party? No)
  • If I had studied more, I would have passed the exam. (Did I study enough to pass the exam? No)

    Now that you have seen how each conditional tense is constructed and you know when we use each of them, practice what you’ve learned in the exercises!


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    Alex Edstrom
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