In the English language, we often express conditions. Naturally, Miss Hamrick, Amber, and Igor dreamed up some rules to govern how we form these structures. We have four types of conditional statements. Now one would think that we would call these “1, 2, 3, and 4.”

But noooooo.

With rules come new terms, so the Grammar Committee met in their dank cave and came up with these clever numbers to name the four conditional structures of verbs:

We can express each conditional in two ways. We can say:First ConditionalSecond ConditionalThird ConditionalZero Conditional

1. If … condition … result: If p, q. 2. Result … if … condition: Q, if p.

The first conditional contemplates a

The first conditional examines a

You express the

You express the

Thus:

You’re not obligated to use the future tenseIf itrains, Iwill cancelmy golf match.Iwill cancelmy golf matchif it rains.

If itrains, Ishould cancelmy golf match.If itrains, Imight cancelmy golf match.If itrains, Iwon’t cancelmy golf match.

The second conditional also looks to the future, but the odds of the possibility happening are remote. The second conditional contemplates an unreal possibility, a dream. Suppose, for example, that you do not have a lottery ticket. The odds of winning with no ticket are zilch. No ticket. No win. But you can still dream with the second conditional. After all, you might buy a lottery ticket.

You express the

You express the

Thus:

Again, you’re not locked in to the use ofIf Iwonthe lottery, Iwould buya beach house.Iwould buya beach house if Iwonthe lottery.

If Iwonthe lottery, Icould stopworking.

The first and second conditionals look to a possible future result. The third conditional, by contrast, looks to a result that could have happened in the past if the condition had happened. But the condition did not happen, so there was no possibility of the result.

You express the

You express the

Thus:

If Ihad wonthe lottery, Iwould have boughta beach house.Iwould have boughta beach house if Ihad wonthe lottery.Wouldyouhave playedgolf if ithad rainedyesterday?

Sometimes in the “if p, then q” formulation, “q” always happens. The condition is zero. So our Grammar Committee named this fourth conditional the

In the zero conditional, we’re not talking about the past or the future. Whenever the condition takes place, the result is, was, or will be the same.

You express the

And you express the

Thus:

If peopledo not eat, theygethungry.Peoplegethungry if theydo not eat.If youarelate for work, your bossgetsangry.Your bossgetsangry if youarelate for work.If youheatice, itmelts.Icemeltsif youheatit.

Here’s a handy table showing the four conditionals, the result probability, methods of expressing the condition and the result, and examples.

Conditional | Probability of Result | Express Condition | Express Result | Example |

First | 50-50 | present tense | future tense | If it rains, I will cancel my match. |

Second | 10% or less | past tense | would + verb | If I won the lottery, I would buy a beach house. |

Third | 0% | past-perfect tense | would have + past participle | If I had won the lottery, I would have bought a beach house. |

Zero | 100% | present tense | present tense | If you heat ice, it melts. |

You may download our entire discussion of the Parts of Speech. Simply download the Grammar eBook

© Grammar.com