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There are four types of conditional sentences. It’s important to use the correct structure for each of these different conditional sentences because they express varying meanings. Pay attention to verb tense when using different conditional modes. Use a comma after the if-clause when the if-clause precedes the main clause. Conditional sentences are statements discussing known factors or hypothetical situations and their consequences. Complete conditional sentences contain a conditional clause (often referred to as the if-clause) and the consequence. Consider the following sentences: If a certain condition is true, then a particular result happens. I would travel around the world if I won the lottery. When water reaches 100 degrees, it boils. What Are the Different Types of Conditional Sentences? There are four different types of conditional sentences in English. Each expresses a different degree of probability that a situation will occur or would have occurred under certain circumstances. Zero Conditional Sentences First Conditional Sentences Second Conditional Sentences Third Conditional Sentences Let’s look at each of these different types of conditional sentences in more detail. How to Use Zero Conditional Sentences Zero conditional sentences express general truths—situations in which one thing always causes another. When you use a zero conditional, you’re talking about a general truth rather than a specific instance of something. Consider the following examples: If you don’t brush your teeth, you get cavities. When people smoke cigarettes, their health suffers. There are a couple of things to take note of in the above sentences in which the zero conditional is used. First, when using the zero conditional, the correct tense to use in both clauses is the simple present tense. A common mistake is to use the simple future tense. When people smoke cigarettes, their health will suffer . Secondly, notice that the words if and when can be used interchangeably in these zero conditional sentences. This is because the outcome will always be the same, so it doesn’t matter “if” or “when” it happens. How to Use First Conditional Sentences First conditional sentences are used to express situations in which the outcome is likely (but not guaranteed) to happen in the future. Look at the examples below: If you rest, you will feel better. If you set your mind to a goal, you’ll eventually achieve it. Note that we use the simple present tense in the if-clause and simple future tense in the main clause—that is, the clause that expresses the likely outcome. This is how we indicate that under a certain condition (as expressed in the if-clause), a specific result will likely happen in the future. Examine some of the common mistakes people make using the first conditional structure: If you will rest , you will feel better. If you rest , you will feel better. Explanation: Use the simple present tense in the if-clause. If you set your mind to a goal, you eventually achieve it. If you set your mind to a goal, you’ll eventually achieve it. Explanation: Use the zero conditional (i.e., simple present + simple present) only when a certain result is guaranteed. If the result is likely, use the first conditional (i.e., simple present + simple future). How to Use Second Conditional Sentences Second conditional sentences are useful for expressing outcomes that are completely unrealistic or will not likely happen in the future. Consider the examples below: If I inherited a billion dollars, I would travel to the moon. If I owned a zoo, I might let people interact with the animals more. Notice the correct way to structure second conditional sentences is to use the simple past tense in the if-clause and an auxiliary modal verb (e.g., could, should, would, might) in the main clause (the one that expresses the unrealistic or unlikely outcome). The following sentences illustrate a couple of the common mistakes people make when using the second conditional: If I inherit a billion dollars, I would travel to the moon. If I inherited a billion dollars, I would travel to the moon. Explanation: When applying the second conditional, use the simple past tense in the if-clause. If I owned a zoo, I will let people interact with the animals more. If I owned a zoo, I might let people interact with the animals more. Explanation: Use a modal auxiliary verb in the main clause when using the second conditional mood to express the unlikelihood that the result will actually happen.
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