Zero and First Conditionals
In English, there are four common ‘conditional’ forms; the zero conditional, first conditional, second conditional and the third conditional. All four conditional forms are composed of two separate clauses; an if clause and a result clause. We use the ‘if clause’ to say ‘If this happens….” (se questo succede …) and the ‘result clause’ is used to say ‘this will happen’ (… questo accadrà).
The zero and first conditionals can be called ‘real conditionals’ and this page explains how they are used. The second and third conditionals can be called ‘unreal conditionals’ and you can find a guide to using them elsewhere in our grammar guide.
If we begin a conditional sentence with the conditional ‘if clause’, it is separated from the ‘result clause’ by a comma. If we start the sentence with a result clause, we do not separate them with a comma.
In English we use the ‘zero conditional’ to talk about something that is normally true. It is used, for example, to explain scientific facts and to explain what we normally do when certain things happen. The Zero conditional explains that when what we talk about in the conditional clause is true, then what we talk about in the result clause is also true. The Zero conditional can refer to past or present situations.
(If + subject + present simple verb), (subject + present simple verb.)
(Subject + present simple verb) + (if + subject + present simple verb.)Examples:
- If it snows, I don’t drive my car.
- The journey to London takes 30 minutes if you use the motorway.
- If my children don’t want to go to school, they pretend to be sick!
- If I go to work without an umbrella, it rains!
With the first conditional, ‘if’ can normally be replaced by ‘When’:
- When it snows, I don’t drive my car.
- When my children don’t want to go to school, they pretend to be sick!
The first conditional is used to talk about the consequences of realistic, likely or possible future events. The first conditional is always used to speak about things which have not happened at the time of speaking. The speaker uses the ‘if’ clause to speak about the future event, and then the result clause to say what the consequence will be.
(If + subject + present simple verb) , (subject + will + verb.)
(Subject + will + verb) (if + subject + present simple verb.)
- If he passes his exams, I will buy him a gift.
In the example above, ‘If he passes his exams’ is a realistic possibility in the opinion of the speaker.
‘I will buy him a gift’ is the consequence ‘if he passes his exams’.
- If you wait for 10 minutes, I will drive you to the train station. (I think you will wait)
- If my boss doesn’t give me a pay rise, I will look for another job. (I don’t think my boss will give me a pay rise)
- If my parents buy a house near us, we can visit them every weekend! (I think they will buy a house near us)
- If he is late again, I will sack him. (I believe he will be late again.)
- If my phone rings while I am in the meeting, will you answer it for me? (It is possible my phone will ring)
- If they increase their prices again, I will find another supplier. (It is possible they will increase their prices.)
First Conditional and the Imperative
When we talk about the future, we often give commands or instructions, using an imperative form (Stop talking!). We can also use an imperative form with in a first conditional sentence or question to give instructions.
- If you see Robert, tell him to come to my office.
- If you smoke in here, remember to open the windows first!
- If you come home late, don’t make a lot of noise.
- If you can’t finish writing that report today, finish it tomorrow morning.
- If the Police stop your car to check your documents, don’t complain, just smile.
- If you don’t like raw fish, don’t have lunch in a sushi bar.
- If you don’t like working here, find another job!