Understanding Conditionals

One Way Idiomas academia ingles Salamanca - dictionary.JPGConditionals are notoriously difficult to deal with, and, in one form or another, they will inevitably pop up on any English exam you take. So, it is important to first decide when you are talking about and how sure you feel about it in order to properly identify which type of conditional to use. Here is a little breakdown of the most important points to help you clarify your understanding of them.

Zero Conditional

When to use
The Zero Conditional is used to express things that are always true now.

If (often substituted with “when”) + Present Simple + Present Simple

When you eat too much candy, your stomach hurts.
(every time you eat too much candy your stomach is going to hurt)

First Conditional

When to use
The First Conditional is used to express things that you feel will probably happen in the future.

If (possibly substituted with “when,” if you feel very sure) + Present Simple + Future Simple

If I see her, I will tell her your news.
(I think I will probably see her and, in that case, I will tell her your news)

Second Conditional

When to use
The Second Conditional is used in two ways
◦ to express things that you feel are unlikely to happen in the future but could
◦ to talk about something that is not true in the present – Hypothetical Present

If + Past Simple + would + infinitive

◦ If I travel to China, I will see the Great Wall.
(I don’t think I will ever travel to China, but if I did I would definitely see the Great Wall.)
◦If my bed were too hard, I wouldn’t sleep well.
(My bed is not too hard, but, if it were, I definitely would not sleep well. It is not, so I sleep fine)

Third Conditional

When to use
The Third Conditional is used to express things that would have been different in the past if you had done something differently – Hypothetical Past. It did not happen that way, so something else did not happen as a result.

If + Past Perfect + would have + Past Participle

If I had finished school, I would have gone to university.
(I did not finish school, so I did not go to college.)

Mixed Conditionals

When to use
Mixed conditionals occur when you take one half of one type of conditional and another half of a different type. Like say something in the past that would affect you today had it been different.

If + Past Perfect + would + infinitive

If I had done the shopping, I would be able to make dinner for you.
(I did not do the shopping, so I cannot make dinner for you.)


It’s important to remember that in real life conditional structures may vary. One half may be understood so only the first half of the conditional is stated. Or could, should or other modal verbs could replace would. Among other variations.


Los condicionales son un tema polémico del inglés. Es algo que vas a encontrar sí o sí en cualquier examen de inglés a que te quieras presentar. Sobre todo, en los exámenes de B2. Esperemos que este guía les pueda ayudar a entenderlos mejor.

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