Introduction To The Conditional Tense in English


Conditional tenses are used to talk about situations that depend on certain conditions. Understanding how to use these tenses can help you express possibilities, hypothetical scenarios, and consequences. Here’s a simple guide to the four main types of conditional tenses in English.

Zero Conditional

Usage: To describe general truths or scientific facts that are always true.
Structure: If + present simple


  • “If you heat water to 100 degrees Celsius, it boils.”
  • Explanation: This sentence states a fact that is always true under the given condition.

First Conditional

Usage: To talk about real and possible situations in the future.
Structure: If + present simple, will + base verb


  • “If it rains tomorrow, we will cancel the picnic.”
  • Explanation: This sentence describes a possible future event that depends on a condition (if it rains).

Second Conditional

Usage: To discuss hypothetical or unlikely situations in the present or future. Think about when you imagine the future.
Structure: If + past simple, would + base verb


  • “If I won the lottery, I would travel the world.”
  • Explanation: This sentence describes a hypothetical situation that is unlikely to happen. This probably won’t happen to you but it’s nice to imagine a future in which you are wealthy!

Third Conditional

Usage: To talk about past situations that did not happen and their imagined consequences. These situations are fake. Think about when you have an argument with someone at work or school and after the argument you think of all the things you should have said.
Structure: If + past perfect, would have + past participle


  • “If she had studied harder, she would have passed the exam.”
  • Explanation: This sentence reflects on a past situation that did not occur and its possible outcome.

Mixed Conditionals

Usage: To combine different times in conditional sentences, often mixing second and third conditionals. This is the most difficult conditional structure so be careful using it.
Structure Example: If + past perfect, would + base verb


  • “If I had taken that job, I would be living in New York now.”
  • Explanation: This sentence combines a past condition with a present result.

Tips for Using Conditional Tenses

  1. Understand the Situation:
  • Think about the situation. Is it a general truth, a real possibility, a hypothetical scenario, or a reflection on the past?
  1. Choose the Correct Structure:
  • Use the appropriate tense and structure based on the type of conditional. Use the outline given above.
  1. Practice with Examples:
  • Create your own sentences using each type of conditional to become more comfortable with their usage.
  1. Be Mindful of Context:
  • Ensure the context of your sentence matches the conditional tense you are using.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

  • Incorrect Verb Tense:
    • Example: “If I will see her, I will tell her.”
    • Correction: “If I see her, I will tell her.”
    • Explanation: In first conditional sentences, use the present simple tense in the if-clause, not “will.”
    • Do not over think the conditionals. Follow the guidelines I have provided in this article exactly as I have given them and you will avoid mistakes.
  • Mixing Conditional Types Incorrectly:
    • Example: “If she studies, she would pass.”
    • Correction: “If she studies, she will pass.”
    • Explanation: Ensure the if-clause and the main clause match the correct conditional structure.


Conditional tenses are a form of complex / advanced grammar in English and therefore they are very important to use in the IELTS exam. If you want to speak like a native you must know the conditionals. This article makes them as easy as possible to use. Just don’t overthink the tense; decide what you’re trying to say, choose which conditional best suits it and then follow the instructions outlined in this article and you will be correct!

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