Grammar, Tenses

Conditionals in Grammar

by VIDYANAND

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What are Conditionals?

Conditionals are sentences used in English to

  • Predict what could happen 
  • Guess what might have happened but didn’t 
  • Wish what would happen

Example-

  1. If you read this book, you will gain a lot of knowledge.
  2. Smitha could have joined us if you had informed her on time.
  3. Unless he owns up to his mistake, we cannot take him back on the team

Characteristics of Conditionals  

They are complex sentences comprising a main clause and a dependent clause.

  • If my parents let me, I will join you for the movie.

The dependent clause starts with ‘If…’ and is also known as an ‘if clause’.

  • If time permits, we can watch a movie.

They are made with different tenses.

  • If you keep the door open, the cat will run out.

In the case of negative sentences, ‘unless’ is used instead of ‘if’.

  • Unless he owns up to his mistake, the team will not take him back.

Types of Conditionals 

There are four types of conditionals in English.

  • Zero conditional
  • First conditional
  • Second conditional
  • Third conditional

Zero Conditional 

  • The zero conditional is used for expressing general truths. 
  • The result of a zero conditional is always true.
  • The dependent clause and the main clause of a zero conditional are in the simple present tense.
  • If the snow melts, the roads become slippery.

More examples:

Dependent ClauseMain Clause
If Mahesh buys a car,his jealous neighbour also buys a car.
If you fail to show up,the opportunity goes to someone else.
If it rains,little green shoots erupt out of the earth.

First Conditional 

  • The first conditional talks about possibilities in the present or the future. 
  • It speaks about things which may happen.
  • The dependent clause is in the simple present tense and the main clause is in the simple future tense.
  • If he arrives in 10 minutes, we will apprise him of the matter.

More examples:

Dependent ClauseMain Clause
If you lead a simple life,you will have no anxieties.
If it rains,we will need an umbrella.
If you order now,you will receive a free subscription for a year.

Second Conditional 

  • The second conditional talks about hypothetical or unreal situations in the present or in the future. 
  • It speaks about things which have a slim chance of happening.
  • The dependent clause is in the simple past tense and the main clause is in the simple future tense.

If I had your sense of humour, I would consider a career in comedy.

More examples:

Dependent ClauseMain Clause
If we had the means,we would buy a car.
If I were the Prime Minister,I would strive for the alleviation of poverty.
If Manish had more time,he would finish his paper.

Third Conditional 

  • The third conditional is used to express improbable situations in the past.
  • It speaks of conditions in the past which didn’t happen or are impossible.
  • The dependent clause is in the past perfect tense and the main clause is in the future perfect tense.

If I had saved enough money, I would have bought that house.

More examples:

Dependent ClauseMain Clause
If she had informed us,we would have cancelled our plans.
If they hadn’t worked hard,they would not have won.
If the purse had been stolen,Manisha would have been left penniless.

Variations in Form

The order of the clauses of the conditions can be changed. The sentence can start with the main clause and end with the dependent clause.

Krishna would have failed if Balram hadn’t intervened on time.

Sometimes, the order of the verbs and the nouns in the conditional sentence can also vary. In such cases, ‘if’ is optional.

Were I in your place, I would set the records straight.

 UsageDependent ClauseMain Clause
Zero ConditionalFactsIf + Simple PresentSimple Present
First ConditionalPossibilitiesIf + Simple PresentSimple Future
Second ConditionalUnreal SituationsIf + Simple PastSimple Future
Third ConditionalImprobable SituationsIf + Past PerfectFuture Perfect