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Conditional Types

The conditional sentence in English can be seen in terms of three principal types.

Type I

We use this type to imply that it is likely that the action in the if-clause will be performed. This kind is structured as follows:
If-clausemain clause
Verb in the present tenseVerb in the future tense
If you work hard,you will succeed.

It is still probable that you will succeed if the condition (to work hard) is fulfilled.
N.B. The verb in the if-clause is never in the future.
Verb in the present tenseverb in the imperative
If you want to take a photo,press this button.

Type II

This type however is used to indicate that the idea is improbable or unreal. The result of the condition is imaginary. It is structured as follows:
If-clausemain clause
Simple past tense (subjunctive) conditional tense (would do etc.)
If she had wings,she would fly.
N.B.: It is more a wish than anything probable to occur.

Type III

It is an impossible condition. The structure is as follows:
If-clausemain clause
Past perfect tenseperfect conditional
If + past perfectshould / would have done
If she had been tall enough,she would have been recruited.
This implies that she was not tall enough that's why she wasn't recruited. It is impossible because the sentence refers to past events that had already finished.

Type Zero

Some scholars add a fourth basic kind which they refer to as "Zero conditional" or "Conditional type Zero", which I cannot recognize as such because its structure can in no way be considered conditional. The conditional, roughly speaking, means the uncertain whereas this type of conditional mostly deals with facts. The reasons if I have to name some are,

  1. The result is always a fact. E.g. If you drop sugar into water, it melts.
  2. It is used when there is no condition. And since there is no condition, what does it do here? E.g. If you don't water the plants, they die.
  3. The "if" can simply be replaced by "when" or "whenever" in this form only.
  4. Its structure is, [If + present simple, present simple] whereas, the conditional, in academic grammar, is put under modal verbs (will, would, should) have to be there.
  5. It is used normally to describe facts or to explain how things work. E.g. If you pedal, the bike moves. As the answer is always true, therefore the conditional clause is no conditional at all.
In brief there is no condition in this type because it is not predictive. Compare these examples and see the difference:

If you throw a piece of wood in the sea, it floats.   (This is true and it is experimented)
If you drop an egg down, it breaks.   (This is true and it is experimented)

Here there is no condition because it is scientifically proven that wood never sinks no matter what the water is, potable or salty.

If you throw this chair in the sea, it will float.   (it is probable only)
If you drop this egg down, it will break.   (The egg will break on condition you drop it down)

The chair will float only on condition you throw it into the sea, but if you doni??t the whole conditional is concealed. So the if-clause is the basic of the prediction (the result).

In this case, there is a condition as we can predict the result of the condition. We have to take into consideration that it is probable that the wood in the chair could bear the iron and it is likely that the chair floats. Another thing is also to be taken into consideration, namely the density of salt in the water of the see.


  • Choose the right type for each sentence and click it:
  • 1. If this wall fell down, many people would be hurt.Type IType IIType III
    2. If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.Type IType IIType III
    3. If you speak more slowly, everybody will understand you.Type IType IIType III
    4. She would have got a prize if she had done a good job.Type IType IIType III
    5. They will come if you invite them.Type IType IIType III
    6. If I were a singer, I'd sing for peace in the world.Type IType IIType III
    7. If I have time, I'll examine you.Type IType IIType III
    8. If you had left earlier, you wouldn't have missed the train. Type IType IIType III
    9. If the test had been easier, I'd have had a full mark.Type IType IIType III
    10. You won't learn much if you don't work harder.Type IType IIType III