Conditionals

a) don't come to me to complain.

b) let me have it.

c) inform me as I do not like that kind of behaviour in my office.

d) there's no extra pocket money for him.

e) call the police.

f) remember to bring some identification.

g) buy me some bread.  

h) don't drive.  

i) send me a postcard.      

j) tell him he needs to come to my office.

k) call me immediately as I need to tell her something.

l) make yourself a sandwich.

This item has been updated and greatly expanded from the Typical Errors in English feature in the book.

 

Ah, conditionals, conditionals, conditionals, or those sentences and questions that include if, along with when, as soon as, whether, etc. Plus mixed conditionals.

 

As I mentioned in the book, conditionals are an area that would demand a few pages of real study and of comprehensive grammar books, but here I am going to make an attempt at that in an extended form from the book.

 

So let's start with a general definition.

 

Conditionals are sentences that usually contain the word if or a word with a similar meaning (such as unless, as soon as, when, in case, whether, etc., although these similar meanings can only be used in certain contexts and cannot always be exchanged with if). These are used to talk about a situation which may or could have existed, and is to have or had possible consequences. They occur in many forms, far more than you had thought possible!

 

They also have many names. Okay, grammar terms. At school, you are taught the zero (open), first, second and third conditionals, but there are other little pests that like to call themselves mixed conditionals, rhetorical conditionals, hypothetical conditionals (which is just another name for the second and third conditionals), unreal conditionals (structure is the same as hypothetical),

 

So we will begin with, logically, the beginning.

 

The zero conditional (or sometimes known as the open conditional).

We can use the zero conditional to talk about the likely truth as a result of something, or of things that are generally true or are always true. We can also use when and unless instead of if, although it is not always possible to replace if with these words.

 

The construction is the if-clause: if + present simple; main clause: present simple. For example:

If you buy cheap products, you get cheap quality.

 

If clause (the first part of the sentence): if + present simple: If you buy cheap products

Main clause (also known as the result clause, or the part of the sentence that gives us the result): present simple: you get cheap quality.

 

Here are some more examples:

If I don’t have the money, I can’t buy a car. (I am stating a clear fact that no money means no car.)

I can buy some bread if the shop is open. (Buying bread is possible once the shop is open for business.)

Ice melts if you heat it. (When ice is heated, it turn into water.)

If you boil water, it turns into gas.

Babies cry if they don't get attention.

If my husband gets a cold, I usually catch it afterwards.

EXERCISE 1 (For a PDF copy of this exercise, click here)

Try and complete the following examples of the zero conditional. (Answers are at the bottom of the page.)

1. When you mix yellow and red, you get orange. If you __________________________________________

2. I am usually ill after eating seafood. If I eat ____________________________________________________________________

3. There may be situations where you're not sure what to do. When that happens, ask Judy. Ask Judy if ___________________  __________________________________________________

4. It is possible you will need money. I can lend you this. If you _______________________________________________, I can lend you some.

5. I would like to talk to you now, but I can see you are busy. We can talk later If _________________________________________

 

Zero conditional + imperative

The imperative is a verb or phrase that expresses something is necessary or required, or even unavoidable. It is usually in the form of a command or request.

The construction is the if-clause: if + present simple; main clause: imperative (but in the present simple)

Examples:

If you are going to the shop, buy me some bread. (I understand that you are planning to go to the shop, and if this is true, I would like you to get me some bread.)

When she calls, tell her I’m out. (I am instructing you to tell the person, when she calls, that I am not here.) 

EXERCISE 2 (For a PDF copy of this exercise, click here)

Now you need to give out some instructions or advice! Match the If clause (1-12) with the imperative phrase (a-l).

13. If you see John,

14. If you go to the bank,

15. If you go to New Zealand,

16. If you go to the shop,

17. If Joanna comes,

18. If you drink,

19. If it all goes wrong for you,

20. If she shouts at you one more time,  

21. If David doesn't do his share of cleaning the house,     

22. If you don't want to read the magazine,

23. If you are hungry,

24. If your car is stolen,

EXTRA GRAMMAR GOODY

Note that 'unless' means the same as 'if not':

You can't come in unless you are over 18. OR If you're not over 18, you can't come in.

Unless you show me some ID, I can't lend you any money. OR If you can't show me some ID, we can't lend you any money.

As shown in the above examples, in all conditionals, the two clauses can be exchanged without a change in meaning:

I can’t buy a car if I don’t have the money. OR if I don't have the money, I can't buy a car.

Unless you tell me, she wins. OR She wins unless you tell me.

But if the 'if' clause comes first, there is usually a comma at the end of the clause:

If you don't add a comma at the end of the 'if' clause, this might be a mistake in a test.

It might be a mistake in a test if the 'if' clause is first and you don't add the comma at the end of the clause..

 

It is possible for the 'if' clause to stand alone:

A: Can you tell Peter to tidy his room?

B: If I see him..

Note the difference between 'if' and 'when':

When I go to England, I'll buy some British tea. (CERTAIN: the person is going to England)

If I go to England, I'll buy some British tea. (POSSIBLE: the person may go to England)

First conditional 

We use the first conditional to talk about what is likely to happen (but may not happen for sure) as a result of an act.

The construction is the if-clause:  if + present simple; main clause: will/may/might/should, etc. + infinitive without to.

If it rains, I’ll take an umbrella. (It is not raining now, but should it do so, I will take an umbrella.)

I’ll get the milk if you give me some money. (I do not have money now, but should you give me some, then I will get the milk.)

If I find your car keys, I'll call you. 

If you don't come early, you won't meet Ed Sheeran. He'll be here until 3 o' clock for coffee and biscuits.

Unless you know what to do, you won't be able to fix it.

If you want any more exercises, then I'll give you some!

EXERCISE 3 (For a PDF copy of this exercise, click here)

Complete the sentences by choosing the best alternative. 

1. If your homework isn't ready by tomorrow, you lose/will lose marks. 

2. Unless you bring some identification, they will allow/won't allow/allow you inside the dance club.

3. I'm sure he will lose his job if he doesn't keep/keeps/will keep missing his bus. 

4. As soon as you get here, we start/will start/starts work on the project. 

5. Whether or not I'm late, I promise I finish/will finish the cleaning this afternoon. 

6. I'll do some gardening outside if it will/won't/does/doesn't rain tomorrow. 

7. It could be a disaster if we don't/won't/will complete the job by the end of this week.

8. It's so hot in this office. But it should be better whether/as soon as/unless the air conditioning is working again.

Rhetorical conditional

These are conditional sentences that make strong assertions, i.e. stating a fact or belief. This one takes the structure of the first conditional (the clauses in red):

You may think that I am more interested in making money than looking after my employees, but if you believe that, you'll believe anything. (You think I am more interested in earning money, but this is simply not true.)

If that's not wrong, then I'd like to know why. (I believe it is incorrect and if it isn't, I want an explanation)

If that politician thinks people will vote for them, they're wrong! (In my opinion, that politician is stupid and I certainly won't vote for them)

I'm sure it won't happen, but if, and I mean if it does, well... (I don't think I even want to say what would be the result!)

The present perfect in the first conditional

Yes, it's even possible to use the present perfect in the if-clause of a sentence in the first conditional.

We use it when we want to emphasise that one action depends on the completion of another. 

So, for example: If we've received the payment by the time agreed, then we'll begin work on the construction.

For the second, third and mixed conditionals, click here.

ANSWERS TO EXERCISES

EXERCISE 1

1. When you mix yellow and red, you get orange. If you mix yellow and red, you get orange.

2. I am usually ill after eating seafood. If I eat seafood, I'm usually ill.

3. There may be situations where you're not sure what to do. When that happens, ask Judy. Ask Judy if you're not sure what to do.

4. It is possible you will need money. I can lend you this. If you need some money, I can lend you some.

5. I would like to talk to you now, but I can see you are busy. We can talk later if you're busy.

EXERCISE 2

1/j. If you see John, tell him he needs to come to my office.

2/f. If you go to the bank, remember to bring some identification.

3/i. If you go to New Zealand, send me a postcard.

4/g. If you go to the shop, buy me some bread.

5/k. If Joanna comes, call me immediately as I need to tell her something.

6/h. If you drink, don't drive.

7/a. If it all goes wrong for you, don't come to me to complain.

8/c. If she shouts at you one more time, inform me as I do not like that kind of behaviour in my office.

9/d. If David doesn't do his share of cleaning the house, there's no extra pocket money for him.

10/b. If you don't want to read the magazine, let me have it.

11/l. If you are hungry, make yourself a sandwich.

12/e. If your car is stolen, call the police.

EXERCISE 3

1. If your homework isn't ready by tomorrow, you will lose marks. 

2. Unless you bring some identification, they won't allow you inside the dance club.

3. I'm sure he will lose his job if he doesn't keep missing his bus. 

4. As soon as you get here, we will start work on the project. 

5. Whether or not I'm late, I promise I will finish the cleaning this afternoon. 

6. I'll do some gardening outside if it doesn't rain tomorrow. 

7. It could be a disaster if we don't complete the job by the end of this week.

8. It's so hot in this office. But it should be better as soon as the air conditioning is working again.

 

Second, third and mixed conditionals  features  home

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