English Conditional Sentences (with examples!)

Lesson Overview

Do you know when to use English conditional sentences? Let’s go over the different uses of all four conditional sentences (with examples)! Including the zero first, second, third conditionals!

In this lesson, I’ll go over the basic structure AND meaning of all four CONDITIONAL sentences in English!


Video Transcript
Section 1
Hey there I’m Emma from mmmEnglish! I’ve got a grammar lesson for you today and I’m really excited to be sharing it with you because it’s one that you’ve been asking for for quite a while. We’re talking about conditional sentences in English. I’m going to go over the basic structure and the meaning of all conditional sentences in English. If you’ve studied these sentences before, then this video is going to be awesome revision for you but if you’re not so familiar with conditional sentences,then it’s gonna be an excellent introduction. So let’s get started!

Sometimes it feels like English grammar can be pretty loose like, yeah there’s some rules but sometimes they don’t apply. Sometimes there’s exceptions. I get it! I’ve got to teach it! But there are some grammatical structures in English that follow really clear rules and the structure of conditional sentences is nice and clear which makes it easier for you to feel confident about the way that you express your thoughts and your ideas when you speak.

We use conditional sentences to explain what actually happens, what could happen so a possible and likely outcome in the future. We talk about what we wish would happen so imagining a different outcome for our present situation. And what might have happened so thinking about a different outcome that happened in the past.

Now there are four types of conditional sentences. They’re all really similar but they’re not the same.

  • If I get sick, I go to the doctor.
  • If I get sick, I will go to the doctor.
  • If I got sick, I would go to the doctor.
  • If I had been sick, I would have gone to the doctor.

So let’s talk about what is the same or what’s similar about all of these sentences. They all use two clauses. There are two parts to each sentence separated by a comma and they all use the conjunction ‘if’.

Just a little reminder that we use conjunctions in English to join two ideas together in one sentence.

  • I ate an apple and two desserts.
  • I like it but I don’t want it.
  • I’ll do it if you drive me to the cinema later.

So all of these words are really, really tiny grammatical words but they have an important function. They’re connecting two ideas together and conditional sentences all use ‘if’ to join two ideas together. In all conditional sentences we have an ‘if’ clause and a result clause.

So the ‘if’ clause is the event or the situation that must happen in order for the other thing to happen. So the result can only happen if the ‘if’ clause occurs and that is why it’s called a conditional sentence. A condition is something that you have to do or a situation that needs to exist in order for something else to happen.

You can’t get this without squeezing this. There is a really important relationship between these two things. One relies on the other. Now these sentences, they’re all quite similar but there are some really clear differences as well. I mean, check out the verbs. This is where the main difference between these conditional sentences are. It’s all in the verbs, you can see it, right? And the meaning is different too. We use each type of sentence in a different situation.

If you haven’t already noticed, we have the zero conditional, the first conditional, the second conditional, the third conditional. And I’m going to go through each type of conditional sentence now one by one. So let’s get started with the zero conditional and I recommend that you take some notes as we go through all of these examples.

Zero Conditional

The zero conditional is called the factual conditional.

  • If I get sick, I go to the doctor.

And it’s one of the easiest to remember because both clauses are in the present simple tense. We have the ‘if’ clause with the present simple and then the present simple in the main result clause as well. So if this happens, then this is what happens. We use the zero conditional to talk about habits, facts and truths.

You can’t argue about these things, right? With these things, we’re not talking about possibility. It’s fact.

  • If you put ice in your drink, it melts.

See? It’s really simple. So I want you to practise by finishing this sentence for me. I want you to write your sentence in the comments so that I can check it.

If I eat…

Remember, present simple, present simple.

First Conditional

Then we have the first conditional which we used to talk about possible and likely future outcomes.

  • If I get sick, I will go to the doctor.

So it’s possible that in the future I’ll get sick and if that occurs, I will probably go to the doctor. So we use ‘if’ with the present simple and ‘will’ with our verb infinitive.

  • If it’s hot tomorrow, I’ll go for a swim at the beach.

And if it is hot, Now am I sure that it will be hot tomorrow? No but it is summertime here in Australia. It’s highly likely that I will go for a swim.

  • If you join the Lingoda Language Sprint, you’ll get lots of English-speaking practice.

So now it’s your turn to finish a sentence.

  • If we leave now…

Complete that sentence in the comments below and feel free to also pause the video at any and write your own conditional sentences down there for me to check.

Second Conditional

Now we have the second conditional and we use it when we want to imagine that the present situation is different.

  • So if I got sick, I would go to the doctor.

This is a hypothetical situation, right? It’s not real. Do I look sick? I’m not sick. I’m imagining that the present situation is different for some reason. I’m imagining that I’m sick. Now if that were true, I would go to the doctor. Now am I really going to the doctor? No, because I’m not actually sick. It’s an unreal situation.

But to express this in English, we use ‘if’ with the past simple and then ‘would’ and the verb infinitive in the result clause. So we use the modal verb ‘would’ to show that we’re imagining the result.

Don’t forget that in English, all verbs that follow modal verbs are in the infinitive form.

  • If I had more money, I would buy a boat.

Now it’s really common and natural to use contractions in conditional sentences. I would definitely say when I’m speaking naturally: If I had more money, I’d buy a boat.

I’d, he’d, you’d, they’d.

This pronunciation is much more common in spoken English.

Okay so now it’s your turn to finish this sentence.

If I finished work earlier…

Finish that sentence in the comments.

There are lots of different uses for the second conditional. We use it to give advice, to give reasons why we can’t do something and generally just imagine that life is different. So I’m definitely gonna have to go through all of those different uses in detail in another video very soon.

Third Conditional

And the third conditional is the past unreal conditional.

  • If I had been sick, I would have gone to the doctor.

We use this structure to imagine a different past, different to the one that actually happened, right? We use ‘if’ with the past perfect and ‘would have’ with the past participle. Just to be clear, the ‘if’ clause did not actually happen but I’m imagining the result if the past was different. So in this situation, was I really sick? I’m not talking about what actually happened, I’m talking about what could have happened in the past but didn’t and what I would have done if that had happened.

Can you think of a time when this grammar structure would actually be useful? When you regret something in the past, something that happened in the past and you wished that that result was different.

  • If we had looked at the weather report, we would have stayed home!
  • If I had known you were visiting, I would have made time to see you.

Okay it’s your turn now.

If I had…

Remember the structure. Let’s do it. Pause the video if you need to so that you can write your sentence in the comments below. So that was an overview of conditional sentences in English. Now with all of this in mind, it is possible to use mixed conditional sentences too but I think that’s a lesson for another day.


This lesson was a summary or an overview of the different types of conditional sentences so if you want me to explain any of them in more detail, to give you lots of different examples and to share some practice activities with you then let me know. Whichever conditional sentence has the most requests will be the one that I make first so make sure you put in your request down in the comments below. I’ll make sure that I link to that lesson right here once it’s finished but for now, check out either of these two lessons and make sure you’re subscribed so you know when the next lesson’s coming. I’ll see you soon!

Links mentioned in the video

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