Conditional structures

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Conditional structures

1st conditional

If + Present tense, … will/won’t …

  • We use the first conditional to talk about things that we think might happen in the future.
  • E.g.: If I find your watch, I will tell you. / I will tell you if I find your watch. (You’ve lost your watch, and I’ll look for it – perhaps I’ll find it)


2nd conditional

If + Past tense, … would/wouldn’t …

  • We use the second conditional to imagine unreal things in the present

a) We use it to imagine things that we don’t expect to happen e.g.: If I found a watch in the street, I‘d (= I would) take it to the police. (No-one has really lost a watch – I’m just imagining the situation)


b) We use it to imagine things that can’t be true e.g.: If I lived in Hawaii, I‘d go swimming every morning. (I don’t live in Hawaii – I’m just imagining it.)

  • In the second conditionals, we can use were instead of was. This is used in a more formal style, and also in the phrase If I were you –> e.g.: If I were you, I’d see a doctor.

3rd conditional

If + past perfect tense, … would/wouldn’t have (done)

  • We use the third conditional to imagine unreal things in the past
  • E.g.: If I’d known (= had known) you were alone, I would have visited you. (Unfortunately, I didn’t know, so I didn’t visit you.)
  • E.g.: I would have been upset if they hadn’t invited me to the party. (In fact, they did invite me, so it was all right.)

Mixed conditional:

  • We can mix the second and third conditionals in one sentence. One part can refer to the present (second conditional) and one part can refer to the past (third conditional)
  • E.g.: If I’d (= I had) remembered to buy some petrol, we’d (= we would) be home by now. (You didn’t remember, so we are not home now.)

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