Conditional sentences consist of two
clauses: a conditional clause (or “IF”
clause) and the main clause (or “RESULT”
clause) which is dependent on the
There four basic
patterns where our choice
of tense depends on:
1.- the time of the condition
(present, future or past).
2.- how possible or
impossible we think it is.
Zero conditional Possible at any
time, but most
If your car is old, it
probably needs a
First conditional Possible in the
If we don’t water
these plants, they’ll
If my eye sight was
perfect, I wouldn’t
unlikely) in the
If I were rich, we’d
buy a house in NY.
Third conditional Impossible in
If you had answered
the door, she
wouldn’t have gone
Used for facts that are always true. Actions that always have
the same result:
• If you study a lot, you always pass your exams.
• If you can read this, you’re driving too close to me!
You can replace IF with WHEN if we are referring to a regular
• When I eat dairy products, I get red spots on my skin.
We can use modal verbs (especially “can” and “may”),
present simple, perfect or continuous in both clauses.
We can find a similar pattern to refer to the past:
When they went to the movies, they always sat at the back.
TYPE I:LIKELY OR REAL
• If + present (simple, continuous or perfect), WILL/ SHALL or BE going
to. (Also future continuous or perfect)
– If you come to the party, you’ll enjoy yourself.
– If the concert is on Friday, I’m going to buy the tickets at once.
– If you arrive before 10:00, we’ll be playing in the park.
– If you continue wasting your money, you’ll have gone bankrupt in
• If + present (simple, continuous, perfect), imperative
– If you come to the party, bring some wine.
– If you have finished, come to the party.
– If you are expecting someone, tell him to join us.
• If + present (simple, continuous, perfect), modal
– If you come to the party, you must bring a bottle of wine.
– If you have finished, you can come with us
– If you are expecting someone, I can leave.
• Requests: if + future, future
– If you’ll just wait a minute, I’ll call the manager
to help you.
• If + should/ If + happen to (less likely but possible)
– If you should see James, tell him to phone me.
– If you happen to see James, tell him to phone
• Unless= if...not. Often used in warnings.
– We’ll be late for our English lesson unless we hurry.
• As long as (or so long as)= if, on condition that.
– We’ll be on time for our lesson as long as you hurry
• Provided (that)/providing (that)= if, on condition that.
– Providing (that) you lay the table, I’ll cook.
– He will pass his exam, provided (that) he studies a lot.
• In case (precaution)
– Take an umbrella in case it rains.
TYPE II: UNLIKELY/IMAGINARY
• If + past (simple or continuous), would/could/ might/ should + infinitive
– If you were driving from Cartagena to Cuenca, what way would you go?
(You are not driving)
– If I went to London, I could/ might improve my English (unlikely that you’ll
go but possible).
• If I were rich, I would travel around the world.
• If she was/were rich, she wouldn’t work.
• Were you really ill, I would call the doctor (formal).
To emphasise the condition is unlikely to happen:
• If the printer should break down within the first year, we would repair it.
• If you were to listen more carefully, you might understand me!
IF IT WEREN’T FOR …
• If it weren’t for his wife’s money, he’d never be a manager.
• If it weren’t for the on-the-job training, I would quit.
TYPE III: UNREAL/ IMAGINARY IN
Imaginary situations in the past.
• Used to criticise, to point out mistakes or to express a regret.
If + past perfect (simple or continuous), would/ could /might
have + past participle (or “been” + -ing)
– If I had gone to the party, I would have taken a bottle of wine.
– If the taxi hadn’t come along, you would have been waiting there for
• Had I known the results, I would have phoned you. (formal)
IF IT HADN’T BEEN FOR ...
• If it hadn’t been for your help, I wouldn’t have got the hang of it so
• If it hadn’t been for the reshuffle of the company, it might have
If + simple past, Perfect conditional (would have + past
If he wasn’t such a good programmer, we would have fired him months ago.
(He is a good programmer at present, and as a result we didn’t fire him months
If I wasn’t afraid of flying, I wouldn’t have driven to the meeting.
(I am afraid of flying. As a result I drove to the meeting)
What’s the meaning of the
1. If we’d missed that flight, we wouldn’t be on
2. If she wanted to see you again, she would
have called you.
3. If we’d taken out the warranty, we wouldn’t
need to pay for these repairs.
4. If we knew more about computers, we wouldn’t
have had to call the technical helpline.
5. We would have more free time if we hadn’t
accepted to write the report.
Compare these to the third/unreal conditional:
If I had won the lottery, I would have bought my
mother a new house.
(I didn’t win the lottery in the past. I didn’t buy a
new house for my mother in the past)