Conditional Tenses in English

There are FOUR conditional tenses in English.

We will start by looking at the ZERO conditional

Structure: IF + PRESENT SIMPLE, … PRESENT SIMPLE

Example: If water reaches 0 degrees, it freezes

If I drink gin, I cry!

We use the zero conditional to describe things that are always true (i.e. there are NO(or zero!) special conditions necessary in order for the second part of the clause to happen.

Think of the zero conditional as FACT or RELIABLE REALITY. As we move towards the FIRST, SECOND and THIRD conditionals we are taking increasing steps away from fact and reliable reality towards what is more HYPOTHETICAL.

stairs

The FIRST conditional

Structure: IF + PRESENT SIMPLE ….. WILL + BARE INFINITIVE

 (Note: the bare infinitive is the infinitive without TO (like the naked infinitive!!)

 Example: If I go to Paris, I will visit the Eiffel Tower.

We use the first conditional to describe situations that are possible and have reasonably high probability. The condition in this example is Paris, because that is where the Eiffel Tower is found. Therefore without going to Paris it would be impossible for me to visit the Eiffel Tower.

Sherpa Wisdom : In the first conditional, the IF and the PRESENT SIMPLE ARE totally in love with each other, they hate to be separated. Similarly, the WILL and the BARE INFINITIVE are in love, happily married and do not like to be separated. However, if you want to change the position of the couples you can do so.

Example : If I go to Paris, I will visit the Eiffel Tower = I will visit the Eiffel Tower if I go to Paris.

(note: in the second structure there is no comma)

The SECOND conditional

Structure: IF + PAST SIMPLE …. WOULD + BARE INFINITIVE

Example: If I met Victoria Beckham, I would give her a sandwich

We use the second conditional to describe situations that are hypothetical with very low probability. The possibility of me meeting Victoria Beckham is very unlikely, however meeting her is the condition that is necessary in order to give her a sandwich, no meeting, no sandwich!

Sherpa wisdom: Like before, in the second conditional, the IF and the PAST SIMPLE ARE totally in love with each other, they hate to be separated. Similarly, the WOULD and the BARE INFINITIVE are in love, happily married and do not like to be separated. However, if you want to change the position of the couples you can do so.

Example : If I met Victoria Beckham, I would give her a sandwich = I would give Victoria Beckham a sandwich if I met her.

(note: in the second structure there is no comma)

                                                                       victoria

The THIRD conditional

Structure: IF + PAST PERFECT …. WOULD + PRESENT PERFECT

Example: If I had known you were in Dublin last weekend I would have met you for a drink.

We are now three steps away from the zero conditional, we have therefore moved completely away from fact and reliable reality towards complete imagination and hypothetical reflection.

We use the third conditional to reflect upon the past, and to consider the ways that things could have been different IF certain conditions were different. However, this is entirely hypothetical the reality is that those conditions were not in place, the hypothetical outcome did not happen and all of this is now in the past and therefore impossible to change (unless you have a time machine!)

Let’s look at the example again… If I had known you were in Dublin last weekend I would have met you for a drink.

face…Imagine that you are looking at your Facebook feed and suddenly you see pictures of a good friend of yours drinking Guinness in a pub in Dublin. The picture was taken last weekend when your friend was on holidays in Dublin. You didn’t know that your friend was here and so you didn’t meet him and he has now gone back to his country.

You send him a message saying “OMG L you were in Dublin last weekend! I am in Dublin at the moment improving my English. If I had known you were in Dublin last weekend I would have met you for a drink!”