The 4 Key Types of English Conditionals to Know and Mixed Conditionals [Lesson + Quiz]
In English grammar, we use conditionals to talk about imaginary situations in the past, present and future.
We use conditionals for situations that might happen in the future, or situations that might never happen.
We use conditionals for actions in the past that cannot be changed.
Conditionals come up in conversation all the time, so they are extremely useful to learn.
There are three basic types of conditional sentences, and they are named type 1, type 2, and type 3.
Each type of conditional sentence has slightly different grammar and has a different purpose.
- Zero Conditionals
- Type 1: Things that might possibly happen
- Type 2: Things that will probably not happen
- Type 3: Things that have already happened
- Mixed Conditionals
- How to Know If an English Sentence Is Conditional
- Conditional Quiz
- And One More Thing...
So I know we just talked a lot about the imaginary. But first, it might help to understand what is known at the “zero conditional.”
These are just basic “if… then”statements of truth and fact.
You would use them to state how a specific action/situation leads to a specific outcome.
There is nothing imaginary about them! But they are written in a similar way to the other types of conditionals, so it’s a great place to start learning.
- Water boils if you heat it to 100 degrees Celsius.
- If the sun sets, it gets dark outside.
- Plants grow when they receive sunlight and water.
- If you mix blue and yellow, you get green.
- When it rains, the streets become wet.
- Ice melts if you expose it to heat.
- If you touch a flame, you feel heat.
- If the temperature drops below freezing, water turns into ice.
- When you add sugar to coffee, it sweetens.
- If you turn on the light switch, the room becomes bright.
Type 1: Things that might possibly happen
A type 1 conditional is a possible situation which could happen.
We use type 1 conditionals to express realistic situations, plans and things that are very likely to happen if we do something. Unlike the previous examples, a type 1 conditional uses will instead of would. Usually this conditional uses present tense verbs in both clauses too.
- If I eat all the chocolate, I will feel sick tomorrow.
In that example, I’m imagining a situation that will certainly happen. I will definitely feel sick tomorrow if I eat all that chocolate. Maybe I shouldn’t eat that chocolate, then.
- If I study hard, I will pass the exam.
Hard work pays off. Passing an exam is the likely result of studying hard.
More examples of type 1 sentences:
- If she studies hard, she will pass the exam.
- If it rains tomorrow, we will stay indoors.
- If you finish your work early, you can go to the party.
- If he cooks dinner, I will clean up afterwards.
- If the movie starts at 7 PM, we’ll have to leave soon.
- If they invite us, we’ll attend the wedding.
- If I find my keys, I’ll call you right away.
- If the store is open, I’ll buy some groceries.
- If you exercise regularly, you will stay healthy.
- If the traffic is light, we’ll arrive on time.
Type 2: Things that will probably not happen
This one is a little more difficult. Type 2 conditionals express things that probably will not happen. These can be imaginary things that are simply impossible, or just very unlikely.
In this case, we use would.
The verb in the if clause is in the past tense, but the verb in the would clause is in the present tense.
- If I bought a Ferrari, I would have no money left.
A Ferrari is so expensive that it would cost all the money I have. But it would be crazy to buy a Ferrari. I can only imagine buying one, but I would never consider it in reality. Because of this, I have used a type 2 conditional.
- If I were you, I would not be rude to the boss.
In this example, I’m giving someone advice by imagining myself in their position—”If I were you…”—and then telling them what I would do in their position. I’m telling someone to be polite to the boss, using a type 2 conditional to imagine how I would act in their position.
“If I were you…” is a great way to give advice in English.
- If I won the lottery, I would travel the world.
- If she knew the answer, she would tell us.
- If they had more time, they would visit us.
- If he had a better job, he would buy a bigger house.
- If it were colder, I would wear a jacket.
- If we lived closer, we would visit them more often.
- If I had more experience, I would apply for that job.
- If you studied harder, you would get better grades.
- If he were more confident, he would speak in public.
- If she had the chance, she would learn to play the piano.
Type 3: Things that have already happened
In the type 3 conditional, we’re talking about a situation in the past, and actions that cannot be changed. It’s often used to express a feeling of regret.
The would clause uses a perfect infinitive verb (have done, have taken), and the if clause uses a past perfect verb (had done, had taken).
- If I had studied harder as a teenager, I would have gone to a better university.
In a type 3 conditional every action is in the past, and nothing in the sentence happened. I didn’t study hard as a teenager, so I didn’t go to a better university. I can’t change anything now, but I wish I could.
- If you had eaten breakfast, you would have felt fine this morning.
Did you eat breakfast this morning? No. Did you feel fine? No, you felt terrible. You should have eaten breakfast.
- If I had studied harder, I would have passed the test.
- If they had left earlier, they wouldn’t have missed the train.
- If she had known, she wouldn’t have made that mistake.
- If he had saved money, he could have bought a car.
- If we had taken the other route, we wouldn’t have gotten lost.
- If they had listened to the advice, they wouldn’t be in trouble.
- If I had seen the warning, I wouldn’t have touched the hot pan.
- If she had attended the seminar, she would have learned a lot.
- If he had exercised regularly, he wouldn’t have gained weight.
- If we had arrived on time, we would have caught the beginning of the movie.
Sometimes when we talk about actions in the past, a type 3 conditional isn’t exactly what we need.
In a type 3 conditional, everything is in the past and finished.
But what do you do if you’re talking about imaginary actions in the past that affect the present?
You need to change your grammar and used a mixed conditional.
Here’s an example:
- If I had married that rich woman, I would be rich too!
Notice how the if clause uses a past participle, like a type 3 conditional, but the would clause uses the present tense verb be. That’s because if I had married the rich woman in the past, the action would still affect me in the present. I would be rich today too!
Why didn’t I marry that rich woman?
- If I had studied harder in the past, I would be more confident now.
- If she hadn’t missed the train yesterday, she would be at the meeting today.
- If they had known about the party, they would have come last night.
- If I had remembered to bring my umbrella, I wouldn’t be getting wet now.
- If he had taken the job offer back then, he would be earning more money now.
- If you had told me earlier, I could have helped you with your project.
- If she had practiced more, she would be playing the piano better today.
- If they had bought the tickets in advance, they wouldn’t be standing in line now.
- If he had called me, I wouldn’t have made other plans.
- If we had left the house on time, we wouldn’t have missed the beginning of the movie.
How to Know If an English Sentence Is Conditional
As you have probably noticed, all conditionals use the word if. It often appears at the start of the sentence.
When you’re listening or reading in English and the word if appears, there’s a strong chance that it’s a conditional sentence.
Next, listen or look for the word would. Not all conditional sentences contain the word would, but most do.
Some conditionals use will instead of would, so look out for that word too.
If you see if and would/will in the same English sentence, you know you have a conditional sentence to deal with.
And if you’re still struggling, the FluentU program has videos with subtitles that let you check the information about any word—including what tense the word is in. You can then see other videos where the word appears in the same form, for even more context.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
With a good understanding of conditionals you can talk confidently about imaginary situations.
You can suggest a proposal and talk about its possible results. You can talk about any number of impossible, wonderful, funny things.
You can reflect on your actions and talk about things you wish you could change.
Congratulations—now you’re one step closer to speaking English like a native!
And One More Thing...
If you like learning English through movies and online media, you should also check out FluentU. FluentU lets you learn English from popular talk shows, catchy music videos and funny commercials, as you can see here:
The FluentU app and website makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition, and useful examples.
For example, when you tap on the word "searching," you see this:
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The best part? FluentU remembers the vocabulary that you’re learning. It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You have a truly personalized experience.
Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)