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GRAMMAR: Conditional sentences

IELTS grammar: conditional sentencesConditional sentences are ‘if’ sentences. There are five types of conditional sentences:

  • zero conditional sentences
  • first conditional sentences
  • second conditional sentences
  • third conditional sentences
  • mixed conditional sentences

*Mixed conditionals are created from two different conditional forms.

Look at the table that follows for examples of each of the different types of conditional sentences.

The zero conditionalIf you heat ice, it melts.
The first conditionalIf I learn better English, I will get a better job.
The second conditionalIf I won the lottery, I would buy a big house.
The third conditionalIf I had studied harder, I would have passed my exam.
Mixed conditionalsIf I hadn’t broken my leg, I would be skiing right now.

The zero conditional

Structure 1If + present simple + comma (,) + present simple
ExampleIf you heat ice, it melts.
Structure 2Present simple + if + present simple
ExampleIce melts if you heat it.
UseWe use the zero conditional to talk about rules, laws or truths. Using the example above, we know that if you heat ice, it melts; it is a fact that if the first part happens, then the second action will also happen.

The first conditional

Structure 1If + present simple + comma (,) + will + base verb
ExampleIf I learn better English, I will get a better job.
Structure 2Will + base verb + if + present simple
ExampleI will get a better job if I learn better English.
UseWe use the first conditional to talk about results that are likely; if the first part happens, then the second action will probably / be likely to also happen.

The second conditional

Structure 1If + past simple + comma (,) + would + base verb
ExampleIf I won the lottery, I would buy a big house in the country.
Structure 2Would + base verb + if + past simple
ExampleI would buy a big house in the country if I won the lottery.
UseWe use the second conditional to talk about a situation that is either not likely or even impossible; the speaker believes that they probably won’t win the lottery.

The third conditional

Structure 1If + past perfect + comma (,) + would have + past participle
ExampleIf I had studied harder, I would have passed my exam.
Structure 2Would have + past participle + if + past perfect
ExampleI would have passed my exam if I had studied harder.
UseWe use the third conditional to talk unreal situations, often involving regret. The third conditional talks about a situation that did not happen, but what the result would have been if it had.

Mixed conditionals

Mixed conditional sentences talk about unreal situations, they can talk about the past, present or future. Study the table below to learn how mixed conditional sentences can be put together.

NB: There are many different forms of mixed conditional.

Type 1If I hadn’t broken my leg,
I would be skiing right now.
Past conditionPresent result

Type 2If John hadn’t forgotten to buy tickets,
I would be going to the concert tomorrow night.
Past conditionFuture result

Type 3If I could use a computer,
I would have got that job yesterday.
Present conditionPast result

Type 4If you could speak better English,you would be going on the business trip to London next week.
Present conditionFuture result

Click here to try the conditional sentences exercises.

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