Various sentence structures in English grammar are used in different contexts to convey different meanings and thoughts that ultimately provide a complete idea. Today, we will discuss one such important structure of sentences known as conditional sentences.
Conditional sentence structures are basically sentences that talk about a hypothetical scenario and its possible outcome. In a very simple sense, they are structures indulged with the word if. So, they are also often referred to as the if-clause.
What are Conditional Sentences?
By definition, we can state that conditional sentences are the type of sentences that discusses general truths or hypothetical conditions or scenarios and their possible outcomes. Here, the word “condition” means situations. So, if a particular condition is said to be true, then a particular outcome occurs. Thus, in conditional sentences, if is used to recognize the conditions that are to be met.
In simple words, we can define conditional sentences as structures that discuss what might have happened or what could happen. These sentences are mainly involved with the word if, which is why they are also known as the if-clause. Thus, in a complete sense, a conditional sentence will always consist of two parts. One is the conditional clause that is the if-clause, and the other is the consequence. That means the if-clause tries to describe the possible scenario or situation and the second part tries to convey the consequence of the given situation.
Look at the examples to have a better idea.
- If it rains, we will cancel the party.
- I would settle in Hawai if I secured the prize money.
- I will not go to the party if the food is not good.
As we can see, these are all considered to be conditional situations. Each sentence tries to speculate what would happen or what might happen by indulging with an if-clause and a consequence clause.
Also, it is important to notice that conditional clauses consist of both an independent and a dependent clause. If we consider the above examples, the clauses starting with if are the dependent clauses. So, a conditional clause will only be complete if it contains both parts.
Different Types of Conditional Sentences
Now that we know the basic meaning of a conditional sentence, it is important to learn its types.
Conditional sentences have four different types, with each having unique meanings and structures that indicate different degrees of probability of a situation. They are:
1. Zero conditional sentence
A zero conditional sentence is a type of conditional sentence that basically talks about general truths or habits. It talks about basic facts or known factors that are always true instead of an instance of something. That means it discusses situations in which a particular action always causes another.
In short, zero conditional sentences create a hypothetical situation to indicate what would be true each time a particular thing occurs. In such sentences, the tenses used will always be simple present tense. Also, in zero conditional sentences, the words if and when can be interchangeably applied. It is because the result or the consequence will always be the same.
- If you don’t eat, you lose weight.
- When it doesn’t rain for too long, the plants get dry.
- When I’m tired, I sleep early.
- If you heat ice, it melts.
2. First conditional sentence
The first conditional sentence is somewhat similar to the zero conditional sentences in its structure. But here, the outcome is likely to happen in the future. That means first conditional sentences are the type of sentences that talk about a condition, the if-clause, in the simple present tense, but the result is only expected to happen in the future. Thus, we use future simple tense in the main clause or the consequence clause.
In simple words, the outcome of such conditions or situations has a real possibility of happening in the future but is not guaranteed. Therefore, we use the future tense to indicate the probable result, unlike the zero conditional sentences.
- If you eat properly, you will get stronger.
- If you study hard, you will eventually score good marks.
- I will attend the party if he gives me another call.
- If you drink tea now, you will vomit.
It is to notice that we can easily reorder the positions of the if-clause and the consequence or main clause.
3. Second conditional sentence
The second conditional sentence is the type that talks about a hypothetical situation and the outcome that is completely impossible or very unlikely to happen in the future. Thus, in such sentences, we convey the if-clause in simple past tense and introduce the main clause with a model auxiliary verb such as would, could, should, etc.
In short, a second conditional sentence refers to a hypothetical condition and its probable result that is, in most cases, unrealistic. So, we use words like would that show unlikeliness of something happening in the future.
- If I got a billion-dollar lottery, I would visit the Tokyo Tower.
- If I went to the USA, I would visit the museum.
- If my father had a phone, I would text him every day.
- If I owned a pool, I would let my friends have a party there.
4. Third conditional sentence
This type of conditional sentence basically talks about what could have been different if something different occurred in the past. That means the third conditional sentence discusses a hypothetical situation in the past and its probable result that did not actually happen but was likely enough to happen.
In short, third conditional sentences talk about an imagined outcome of a past event that did not actually occur. The result is contrary to what actually happened. So, we use past perfect tense to create the condition, the if-clause and would have for the main clause.
- If you had told me earlier about your sickness, I would have brought some fruits with me.
- If I had prepared harder, I would have scored better.
- If I had known about the test earlier, I would have worked harder.
- If I had won the prize, I would have bought a new phone.
These are the main types of conditional sentences. All involve an if-clause that provides the condition and the main clause that talks about the consequence.