To express a consequence depending on a condition, we use the conditional, which consists of anIF clause. The IF clause can precede or follow the main clause. When theIF clause comes first, a comma is placed between the two clauses. Depending on the level of probability (certain, probable, possible or purely theoretical conditions) different tenses are used in two parts of the conditional. There are four types of conditional: type zero, one, two and three, which we are going to explain.
In the IF clause of the zero conditional, we describe a consequence that takes place regularly and with certainty.
The zero conditional is used to: • express general truths, scientific and mathematical laws, technical procedures, instructions. The days get longer if you travel north. If you press this key, the display lights up. • give advice. In this case, the present form of imperative or modal (can or may) is used in the main clause Go/You can go to bed if you feel tired.
In the first conditional, we describe a real possibility. We talk about facts that, given certain conditions, probably or possibly will take place in the future. In this case, the verb tenses are usually:
NOTE: In the IF clause it is possible to use either the present simple or the present continuous. If you come to my house, I’ll show you my paintings. If you are staying overnight, I’ll try to find you a room. In the main clause, the use of will indicates a certain consequence. To indicate that something is possible, we use modal can, while for an uncertain consequence we use the modal may. If you spend too much time in the sun, you may get sunburnt. (it isn’t certain)
When we assume a condition to be improbable or imaginary and that we don’t expect to happen but is however, theoretically possible, we can use the second conditional. If I won a million dollars on the lottery, I would stop working and would go and live in the Caribbean. (it is highly unlikely but is however possible) • The second conditional is also used when propose a different situation to the present reality. If you worked harder, your grades would be much better. (situation that is different to the present reality: at the moment you aren’t working hard enough)
Note how the second conditional is structured in the question form: If you won some big money, would you spend it all or would you save part of it? • When the verb be is present in an if clause, were is used for all persons. In spoken English, was is also used for the first and third person singular: If I/he/she/it were.....was...... He would make a very good career if he was/were a little more ambitious. • The expressions If i were you/him/her.... is used to give advice and warnings. If I were you, I’d talk to her.
In a main clauses, as an alternative to would, other modals can be found such as: could to express ability or possibility, might to express uncertainty and should to express a piece of advice. If you played a musical instrument, you could join the local bend. If she tried Japanese food, she might find that she likes it. If I should win the race, I should thank the coach for his help.
The modals would, should or could are often found in if clauses. • Would is used in if clauses to express a request in a polite and formal way, or even to express willingness to do something. If you would kindly tell the manager, I would really be grateful. • The use of should in if clauses makes the hypothesis more impropable. If it should hail, the harvest would be lost. • The use of could in if clauses indicates the ability and possibility. If you could dance, you would have a lot more fun.
When we propose an impossible condition, because it refers to the past and it is therefore no longer possible, we use the third conditional. If you had asked me, I would have helped you. If I had found her address, I would have sent her an invitation. (Sometime in the past, I wanted to send an invitation to a friend. I didn't find her address, however.So in the end I didn't send her an invitation.) If John had had the money, he would have bought a Ferrari. (I knew John very well and I know that he never had much money, but he loved Ferraris. Hewould have loved to own a Ferrari, but he never had the money to buy one.)
The other modals might, should or could can also been found in the third conditional. You might have succeeded if you had tried hard enough. If I had taken my racket with me, I could have played tennis with you.
Now, let’s take a look at the summary of the different types of conditional in the table: