Conditional Clauses

Skill: Grammar  

Category: General English & Academic English

Level: Upper Intermediate

Conditional Clauses

In the grammar of English, in fact, a conditional clause is a type of adverbial clause which states a condition or hypothesis, real or imagined. Actually, a sentence contains a main clause —which expresses the result of the condition— and one or more conditional clauses is called a conditional sentence. In addition, a conditional clause is mostly introduced by subordinating conjunction if.

Generally, there are four types of conditional clauses in English—zero, first, second and third conditional clauses.

The zero conditional:

It is often used to refer to fact that is always true—a general truth. The situation in zero conditional clause is real and possible. Moreover, it can also express the role of nature.

If clause                                              Main clause

If + simple present                              simple present

            if you heat ice,                        it melts.

            If you boil water to 100oC,     it boils.

First conditional: Expressing real conditions in present or future

In type one conditional clauses, there is a possible condition and a probable result. It refers to the present or future where the situation is real. In this type, the simple present (not simple future) is used in if-clause, but the result clause may have different possible verb forms.

Ex: If I don’t drink water properly, I always get thirsty during the class.

  • Simple present, in the result clause, to express a habitual activity or situation.

Ex: If I don’t have lunch tomorrow, I will get hungry during the exam.

  • Simple future, in result clause, to express a particular activity in the future.

The result clause may also contain modal and phrasal modal like: should, may, might, be going to.

Ex1: If it rains, we should take umbrella.

Ex2: If it rains, we can’t go out.

Ex3: if it snows, we are going to say home.

Second conditional: Unreal in the present or future

In type two conditional clauses, there is a hypothetical condition and its probable result. It refers to a time which is now or any time and a situation which is not real.

If clause                                              Main clause

If + simple past                                   would / could + simple form of verb

Ex: If I won the game, I would be really happy.                    In fact, I didn’t win the game

Ex: If she were here, she would cook for you.                       In fact, she is not here now.

Ex: If I were you, I would go with him.                                In fact, I am not you.

Note: were is used for all subject pronouns, but was is sometimes used with (I, he, she, it) in very informal speech.

Third conditional: Unreal in the past

Type three conditional clauses refer to a time that is in the past, and the situation is contrary to reality. The facts are in contradiction to what is expressed. Moreover, it refers to an unreal past condition and its probable past result.

If clause                                              Main clause

If + past participle                               would have / could have + past participle

Ex: If you had come to my party, I could have seen you.

Ex: If you had studied hard, you could have been the first student in the class.

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