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 and how to apply them in your spoken English:

In order to grasp and understand conditionals, lets begin by looking at….

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.

For example:

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?

Lets go through the 4 conditionals together…..


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.

Remember to practice! PPP (Perfect Practice makes Perfect)

If you do not practice using your English in a natural context, then you will loose your English.  It is one thing to be able to know all of these rules, structures and hearing these tips; though another to be using and applying your knowledge!

A common mistake that many English learners make (maybe EVEN YOU!)  is that they do not  practice!  The more you practice, the better you will get.  You have to be practicing on a consistent basis, applying your knowledge.  Only in this way WILL YOU IMPROVE YOUR SPOKEN ENGLISH.   

Speaking with friends, communicating in English on a consistent basis, making mistakes, working on fixing your mistakes and getting feedback on your spoken English will help you identify YOUR common mistakes, work on these mistakes so that you CAN improve your spoken English and communication skills! 

Final Suggestions:

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Hi! I'm Adriana! Your English Speaking Coach :) I help English learners become confident and fluent English speakers, by using their English in their everyday lives. If you liked this post, be a good mate and share it with a friend learning English. If you have any suggestions or topics which I haven't written about, leave a comment below this post and we will make an English lesson on that topic 👇👇

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