Conditional sentences in English or “coulda-woulda-shoulda …”

Almost everything in our life happens under some conditions. We often say; "if the weather is good ...", "when I have time ...", "if I were the queen ..." - something good, pleasant or very important will happen.

All these sentences, starting with "if," are called conditional. There are 4 types of conditional sentences in English. The type of conditional depends on whether the event is real (unreal) and on the time of its occurrence. In general, the structure of conditional sentences is simple: in one part we voice the condition, and in the other - the result that is expected when the condition is met.

Now we will consider each case separately.

Zero conditionals are used when it comes to something unchangeable: the laws of nature, physical phenomena, scientific facts, and they are formed according to the following scheme:

Sometimes instead of if you can use when:

When spring comes it gets warmer.

Also, zero conditionals can include the imperative when we give instructions:

If you change your mind, give me a call.


First conditionals describe real situations in the future. That is why another name of this type is “real” conditional sentences.

The construction scheme of this type has the following form:

If you take a taxi, you will arrive there sooner.

Hurry! If we run, we will catch the train.


Conditional sentences of the second type are used to describe unrealistic situations (unlikely or imaginary) in the present or future.

Here is how we build it:

If I studied harder, I would pass the exam.

If I knew the answer, I would tell you.

We remember that in the past tense, the verb to be has the form was in persons I, he, she, it. This form can be used in conditional sentences of the second type, however, it sounds informally and is often used in the conversational genre. Usually the verb to be has one form - were - for all persons in the second conditional.

If I were on holiday, I would go to the beach.


 Conditional sentences of the third type

If not to go into details, the whole idea of the third type of conditional sentences can be explained as regret about the past. Those, some situation happened (or did not happened) in the past, but we cannot change anything in it, we can only regret and imagine what would have happened if everything had been different. As you already understood, this type refers to actions in the past.

If I had taken my umbrella, I wouldn’t have got wet.

If you had phoned me yesterday, I would have given you the news.


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