When we talk about conditionals, we often refer to the 'clauses' in a sentence.
Clauses refer to small parts of a sentence, in sentences with conditionals we usually have two clauses, one with the condition, and the other with the result.
The clause with 'if' is called the condition, and the main clause is the result. You can reverse the clauses in conditional sentences without changing the meaning : So it means the same if you say. ‘If it rains, go inside,’or ‘Go inside, if it rains.’
Modals are words which are used to describe how certain or possible something is.
Modals can be used to talk about
- level of ability
- how obliged we are to do something
- how possible something is
- how strongly we recommend a particular behaviour or action.
'Will' and 'would' are the most used modals when we make sentences with conditionals, but there are others such as 'could', 'should' and 'might'.
For example :
If I say 'I can't go to the party'. It means I won't go.
If I say 'I will go to the party', it means I am certain that I will go.
If I 'should go' to the party, it means I am obliged to go.
Using different verb tenses and modals allows us to express lots of different possibilities and degrees of certainty in conditionals.
Zero, First, Second, Third and Mixed Conditionals
They are a way to describe conditional sentences, looking at grammar and structure. The simpler the grammar, the more likely the result is to be true.
The Zero conditional is used for general truths, something that is true or to give instructions.
Structure: if /when + present tense result: present tense
If you mix white and black, you get grey. (general truth)
She gets drunk when she drinks wine. (true)
If he calls, answer it. - (instruction)
The First conditional is used for situations where something that is very certain or possible if the condition in the first clause is met
Structure : if/when + present simple result : subject + will/other modal + base verb.
I will buy a house if I win the lotto.
If it rains, I will wear a coat.
The Second Conditional is used for situations where something is possible but unlikely to occur.
Structure : if + past simple result: would + verb
If I studied, I would get an 'A' on my exam.
I wouldn't be hungry if I ate breakfast.
The Third Conditional is used to talk about something that did not happen (in the past) and can't be changed. It is 'impossible' - something that could never happen.
Structure: If + past perfect result: would have + past participle
If you had told me (you were moving house), I would have helped you.
If you had kept the kitchen clean, you would not have mice!
You would not have had an accident yesterday If you had learned to drive properly.
In mixed conditionals, we can different combinations of
- The likelihood of the event happening (the degree of certainty)
- the time-frame we are talking about.
When we start mixing different time-frames, we get many different verb form combinations which we call mixed conditionals.
Let's look at this sentence
If I lived in Paris, I would visit the Eiffel Tower next week.
In the 'if' clause (If I lived in Paris): The girl does not live in Paris (now) - She is talking about the present.
If I lived in Paris (now), I would visit the Eiffel tower next week. NEXT WEEK is talking about the future.
Mixed conditionals are sentences which mix two different time frames and also different degrees of possibility.
Real and Unreal Conditionals.
Another way of looking at conditionals is in terms of them being Real and Unreal.
‘Real’ means things that did happen or could still happen: they are possible
e.g If I finish work on time, I will go to the concert with you.
‘Unreal’ means things that did not or could not happen or are speculative: they are very unlikely or impossible.
e.g If I lived in Paris, I would have visited the Eiffel tower last week. - in this sentence we know that I do not live in Paris, so visiting the Eiffel tower is impossible.
Each Mixed conditional consists of a Condition (in the past, Present or Future) and a Result (in the past present or future) and can be Real or Unreal.
Watch our video for more information on conditionals and how to form conditional sentences with the correct structure. There are plenty of examples to help you recognise the different types of conditionals and how to use them correctly.