Have you ever been in a situation like this?

Rajeesh has been learning English in school for two years now. He's having a test on Monday and he has to learn how to form conditional clauses. He feels sad because he's been studying for this test the whole week, but he can't seem to grasp how to form conditional clauses in English. He doesn't know what to do. He's been searching the Internet to find some clues, but nothing seems to be helpful. And Rajeesh wants to get a good grade...


What can you do in a situation like this?

How can you learn about conditional clauses?

how to use conditionals


Many English learners find conditional clauses very difficult to learn.

The mix of the tenses and the existence of several types of conditional clauses can be too complicated for some students.

There's no need for that if you know the rules.

 So, let’s introduce some rules on when and how to use conditional clauses.

What are conditional clauses?

  • Conditional clauses convey a direct condition in that something what must happen first, so that something else can happen.

  • The most common subordinators for conditional clauses are if and unless.

  • Others are: given (that), on condition (that), provided (that), supposing (that). These can only be used with finite clauses.

  • Conditional sentences are used for giving information, but can also be used for requesting, advising, criticising, suggesting, offering, and even commanding, warning, and threatening.

  • The if-clause usually comes before the main clause and it is separated by a comma. However, it can also come after it, in which case there is usually no comma.

If you come early, we can go for a walk.

We can go for a walk if you come early.

What are the types of conditional clauses?

There are 4 types of conditional clauses:


Type 0 conditionals

if … + present … + present


  • We use the zero conditional to describe rules and situations where one event always follows the other.

If the doorbell rings, the dog barks.


  • When can be used instead of if.

When/If I reverse the car, it makes a funny noise.


  • For past situations, when one thing always followed automatically from another, the following pattern is used:

if … + past … + past

If the doorbell rang, the dog barked.

Type 1 conditionals

if … + present … + will


  • We use the first conditional to talk about something that is quite likely to happen in the future

If I see Tom at the meeting, I will give him your message.


  • As well as present simple, the progressive or perfect can be used in the if-clause.

If we’re having a party, we will have to invite the neighbours.


  • In informal speech you can use this pattern with and and or.

Touch me and I’ll scream. (= If you touch me, I’ll scream.)

Go away or I’ll scream. (= If you don’t go away, I’ll scream.)


  • We can use will/would in if-clause to make a request or to express insistence or annoyance, and should when we are less sure about a possibility.

If you will give me a hand with the dishes, we can go out together. (=Please, give me a hand with the dishes.)

If you would give me a hand with the dishes, we could go out together.

If you will continue to go out every night, you’ll fail your exams. (= insistence: if you insist on going out)

If I should meet her, I’ll ask her. (=I may meet her, but I doubt it.)

Type 2 conditionals

if … + past … + would


·         We use the second conditional to talk about imagined, impossible or unlikely events in the future or in the present.

If I had lots of money, I would travel around the world.


·         It is also used to give advice.

If I were you, I wouldn’t go out with him.


·         As well as past simple, past progressive or could can be used in the if-clause.

If the sun was shining, everything would be perfect.


The difference between types 1 and 2 for possible future actions:

·         Type 1 expresses the action as an open possibility:

If we stay in a hotel, it will be expensive.

·         Type 2 expresses the action as a theoretical possibility, more distant from reality:

If we stayed in a hotel, it would be expensive.

Type 3 conditionals

if … + past perfect … + would have


  • We use the third conditional for a hypothetical condition in the past, an unreal, imaginary action in the past.

If you had taken a taxi, you would have got there in time.


  •  It is also used to express regrets and criticism.

If I had locked the car, it wouldn’t have been stolen. (= regret: It’s a pity I didn’t lock it.)

If he had behaved well, the teacher wouldn’t have punished him. (= criticism)


  • Could + perfect can be used in the if-clause.

If I could have warned you in time, I would have done it.