The English language is full of constructions and grammar features that may seem easy to native speakers but become pretty complex to understand for English learners. And, believe me, conditional sentences are no exception to this rule. That’s why, with our team of English teachers, we decided to create the best guide on conditional sentences you’ll ever find to complement what you learn in your English lessons.
Conditional sentences are constructions that include correlating events. While one clause consists of a consequence, the other presents the necessary condition for the former clause to happen. Four different types of conditionals reflect the grade of chance the whole structure has to become real.
Even though conditional sentences are not that complex to understand and apply, they may sometimes get mixed for learners. This generally creates a confusing aspect, making us use them in the wrong situations. But, worry not, my fellow English fans! With this guide, along with what you have already seen in your English lessons, you will conquer the conditional sentence land and get a step closer to mastering the English language!
As the name reads, conditional sentences introduce a condition that needs to be fulfilled. If that happens, the second part of the sentence -or clause, if we want to become technical and use proper words, will also occur. Is this always like this? YES! That’s what conditionals are all about: presenting an event that will only become true if the condition is also a fact. Notice that I’m not using the word ‘affirmative’ because conditionals can have a negative clause. But let’s not try to learn to run before even knowing how to crawl. Baby steps.
We can divide the whole sentence into two parts when using conditional constructions: main and conditional clauses. The main clause is our conclusion. That is, what will happen if the other clause becomes true. As you may have already imagined, the conditional clause presents the requirement for the main clause to happen. That’s why we say that they coexist. While one of them depends on the other one, the second one inevitably triggers an event.
Let’s imagine a situation together: You are about to enter a new club abroad. A juicy contract is about to be signed between you and the entity. But before signing, the club owner gives you a phone call and tells you that good English skills are compulsory to enter the team. So, you know that to become part of the squad, you need to study hard. Pretty easy, right? Well, you have control over one event here, which is making an effort to learn. The other one will just be a consequence of your actions. Now, there are four possible variations to this conditional construction, which we will review next.
Let’s imagine that you receive this phone call in January. The owner tells you that you have a whole year to study and master the English language to enter the team. That’s twelve entire months for you to learn a language. It may take some hard effort, but you can do it. It’s quite a long time to do so. In this case, we recur to type 1. This type of condition means that the conditional clause is possible, with a good chance of becoming true. Is it 100%? Well, actually, no. As we said, it will require a reasonable effort from your side. In this case, then, we can say:
If I study English hard enough, I will enter the team.
Let’s take a look at this sentence. First, let’s identify both clauses, divided from each other by the comma. Each clause has its own subject, which in this case is the same: I. At the same time, each person has their own verb. The first clause introduces the requirement. In type 1 conditional sentences, we present it using the following structure:
If + Subject + Verb in the Simple Present + Rest of clause
The second clause, the main one, also has its own subject and verb. In this case, for type 1 conditional sentences, we structure goes like this:
Subject + Will + Bare infinitive + Rest of clause
So, we can conclude that type 1 conditional sentences introduce a requirement with a high chance of happening. What does that mean? That the main clause also has a high probability rate. Remember we said that they coexist? But that will only occur if the first part of this sentence happens first.
But this high rate chance can decrease in time:
So, January passed by. We had great holidays at the beach. We were exhausted when we returned, so we spent February resting at home and playing computer games. And, we also spent some time training to lose those extra pounds we gained during Christmas and New Year celebrations. All of a sudden, it’s mid-April, and we still haven’t even gone online to buy our English books (kids these days, right?). So now, the requirement to enter the team is not as possible as it used to be due to the time left, right? This is when we recur to type 2 conditional sentences.
Conditional type 2 constructions introduce a probable condition. Yes, it can still happen. But it’s not as easy for it to become valid as before. For these situations, we just need to change the tenses, and… poof. Chances become lower just like that. Let’s take a look then at how this situation can be presented using a conditional type 2 construction:
If I studied English, I would enter the team.
Before we go on analyzing this conditional type 2 sentence, let’s set something clear. You may have noticed that we used the simple past (studied) tense in the first clause. This does not mean we are talking about a past event. It’s just another use for the simple past tense. Now that we are aware of that, we can go on with each clause. First, let’s then analyze the conditional clause:
If + Subject + Simple Past + Rest of clause
The main clause also suffers some slight modifications for conditional type 2 sentences. This is because we need to correlate the lower chances of the requirement to become true. Still, the correlation between both clauses remains the same. If the now unlikely situation occurs, the main clause will happen. That’s always 100%. The only difference is that, as the required event is less likely to happen, the main clause is also affected in the same way. Let’s see how to build it, then:
Subject + Would + Bare infinitive + Rest of clause
Note that the only modification needed in this case for a conditional type 2 sentence to express unlikeliness is changing ‘will’ to its past tense ‘would’.
Well, something funny happened this year. We decided that we would start studying English after our mid-year break. But school got quite tricky. Exams were challenging, and we realized that 6 months was not enough time for us to master the English language. Besides, we never even went online to search for a place to buy the books, and we preferred watching a new series online Netflix came up with instead of learning. Shame on us, right? The coach called us to see how we were doing, and we had to confess that no English knowledge had been incorporated during the whole year. So, all in all, we’re out of the team.
What happened here, besides being silly enough and spend our time watching a series that would eventually turn out to be quite bad? Our chances of studying English became so low that they are now impossible to accomplish. Why? Mainly because of time. It’s past due. That is why we recur to conditional type 3 sentences. Chances are null, but we can talk about a hypothetical situation in the past that could have been different, should the requirement had become true. So, a conditional type 3 sentence for this situation would be like this:
If I had studied English, I would have entered the team
In conditional type 3 structures, the condition clause talks about a situation that didn’t happen and cannot happen now. Still, it refers to it as something that could have been different. Therefore, we build this clause in the following way:
If + Subject + Past Perfect + Rest of clause
Regarding the main clause, conditional type 3 sentences also modify it to express that it won’t happen either as the requirement didn’t occur. Still, as this correlation between both clauses still exists, we refer to what would have been different if it had. Thus, we construct the main clause in the following way:
Subject + Would Have + Past Participle + Rest of clause
Conditional type 3 sentences help us see what went wrong when something didn’t happen or prevented something horrible from happening. Remember that you can use any kind of clause, both positive and negative in meaning. In a way, this situation in particular also leaves space for thinking. And, whether you like it or not, the conclusion will always be the same: study English!
Well, of course. Why would such a beautiful language as English follow the ‘1, 2, 3 rule’ when we can just have a conditional type 0 instead? But, wait! There’s a reason for this. And that, besides being a beautiful language, is because they are not located in time. Yes, they are timeless. They refer to facts or everyday situations that trigger a consequence. Always? Yes, every single time, just as it happened in the previous cases.
We use conditional type 0 sentences to talk about facts or situations that don’t occur at a particular time. Thus, we can’t measure how likely the requirement is to happen. Let’s have an example.
If you heat ice, it melts.
Pretty straightforward, isn’t it? Well, that’s what conditional type 0 is all about. As you can see, it refers to a fact, a general truth. It doesn’t have an event in particular as a reference, and we can’t say how likely the condition clause is to occur. But if it does happen, the main clause will as well. As you can see, the structure for this conditional type is:
If + Subject + Simple Present + Rest of clause, Subject + Present Simple + Rest of clause
In this article, we have dealt with the four different conditional types. The importance here is to get hold of how structuring works. The truth is that sentences can get a bit more complex, but just in terms of words or order. Remember how to build a conditional sentence depending on the likeliness of the requirement to happen, and you’re good to go. Once you’re sure this is clear enough, you can go on and start using them in a more farfetched way.
Also, remember that the idea of this article is to complement your English lessons, not replace them. Like any other existing language, English is too tricky to learn just from reading a blog article. Information can never be compressed into a couple of words and examples. Remember to subscribe to our weekly newsletter to keep track of tips, news, and updates that will help you master the English language. Thanks for reading! See you next time!