Conditional sentences describe a conditional situation, or a result that depends on an event occurring first. "If" one thing happens, "then" another thing will happen. It simply means that one thing is required for something else to occur or exist. Explore the various types of conditional sentences and review a few examples of each.
The conditional mood is one of five sentence moods in grammar. It uses the conjunction “if” (and occasionally “when”) to express a condition and its result. The likelihood of the result depends on the type of conditional sentence, which are:
- zero conditionals (extremely likely)
- first conditionals (possible)
- second conditionals (unlikely but still possible)
- third conditionals (impossible)
The outcome in a zero conditional sentence is certain. Zero conditionals, also known as Type 0 conditionals, outline situations in which one thing always causes another. If one thing occurs, something else will also occur.
Zero conditionals are often known as factual conditionals, but they are not factual statements. For example, “I get sunburned in hot weather” is a factual statement, but not a conditional. “If it’s hot, I get sunburned” is a zero conditional sentence.
The first part of zero conditionals includes an “if” or “when” clause in the simple present tense. The next part describes what happens as a natural result, also in simple present. This is important because the simple present is used when an action is habitual or constant.
Zero conditional sentence examples include:
- If you trip on pavement, you get a scrape.
- You receive a passing grade when you do all your homework.
- If it rains, my car gets wet.
- My boyfriend smiles when I give him a compliment.
- If the clock strikes midnight, it's a new day.
- When the dogs get a treat, they wag their tails.
- If Hannah sleeps in, she’s late for school.
- I get stressed out when I watch the news.
When a situation is not completely certain, it’s time for first conditionals. First conditionals (or Type 1 conditionals) dictate that a result is not certain, but very likely that one condition will lead to another. Unlike zero conditionals, first conditionals only use “if” clauses, not “when” clauses.
Each clause in a first conditional has a different tense. The “if” clause is still in the simple present tense, but the result clause now uses the future “will + verb” structure.
- I will answer if he calls me.
- If I study really hard, I'll ace this test.
- If the weather is good, our crops will flourish.
- You will succeed in college if you're diligent in your studies.
- My sister will cry if she watches this movie.
- Jenny will buy this dress if it’s on sale.
- I will attend the wedding if I’m invited.
- If the kids eat too much candy, they’ll have a stomachache.
Second conditionals use the modal verb “would” to indicate that it is unlikely that a condition will be fulfilled. They reflect a bit of wishful thinking, but are not impossible, and if they do happen then the result will occur. These sentences often use “were” instead of “was” in the past tense, just like subjunctive sentences. However, the conditional nature of these sentences – condition and result using the conjunction “if” – makes them conditional, not subjunctive.
The "if" clause in a second conditional is in the simple past. The result part of the sentence is then written in the "would + infinitive verb" form; this is called the present conditional tense.
- I would answer if he called.
- If the weather improved, our crops would flourish.
- If you resolved to be diligent in your studies, you would succeed in college.
- I would faint if I ever met Brad Pitt.
- You’d understand the joke if you were there.
- If I were rich, I’d never work again.
- Harry would help you move if he knew where you lived.
- The children would eat their vegetables if they tasted better.
Third conditionals, or Type 3 conditional sentences, refer to an impossible condition. These situations are impossible because they have already occurred and can’t be changed. If, hypothetically, that condition were true, then the described outcome would be likely. Like second conditionals, third conditionals often use “were” instead of “was,” but are not subjunctive.
This type of conditional sentence indicates that "if" something would have happened, something else could have followed. The “if” clause in third conditionals is in the past perfect verb tense because it has already happened. The result clause still uses “would,” but adds “have” for the perfect conditional verb tense “would have + verb.”
Let's take a look at some examples:
- I would have helped if I’d known you were in trouble.
- If Bonnie had studied, she would have passed the test.
- My family wouldn’t have bought the house if they had seen the broken pipes.
- Your dog would have bitten my dog if he hadn’t been on a leash.
- If she had arrived five minutes earlier, she would have seen the whole show.
- If my nephew had gotten the job, he would have been set for life.
- Pearl wouldn’t have made that comment if she knew her brother was listening.
- The teacher would have assigned less homework if the class had finished their assignment.
Conjunctions join words, phrases and clauses together smoothly. While the most common conditional conjunction is “if,” other conjunctions can work as conditional conjunctions. Common conditional conjunctions include if, because, when, since, unless, assuming, and others.
The conditional mood lets the reader know that an action may or may not happen, depending on the conditions beforehand. Changing the mood of your sentence is a great way to communicate to your reader that an outcome is conditional – and it’s also a great way to vary your writing. Check out more examples of sentence variety options to make your writing more interesting and accurate for readers.