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Conditional Sentences - An Overview

 Conditionals is one of the most confusing topics of grammar. Now it's time to say good bye to all your confusions. 




Image of blue and yellow colours. Written "General English, Conditional Sentences"



What is a Conditional Sentence?

A conditional sentence is a sentence that denotes a condition. Like, “If you want to succeed, work hard.”

In the sentence above, you can see that it expresses a condition for succeeding. 

And what is that condition? 
Yes, it’s working hard.

Now you know what a conditional sentence is, right?

So, move on to its structure.

Structure of a Conditional Sentence:

All the conditional sentences have two clauses – 
i. The principal clause.
ii. A subordinate clause (the If-clause),

E.g. – 
  • If I had an extra umbrella, I would lend it to you. 
In the sentence above, the first part “If I had an extra umbrella” is the subordinate clause, while the second part “I would lend it to you” is the principal clause.


Types of Conditional Sentences:

How many types of conditional sentences are there?
There are mainly 4 types of conditional sentences. 

Zero Conditional 1st Conditional 2nd Conditional 3rd Conditional
Expresses general truth Expresses realistic imaginations in the future. Expresses Unrealistic imaginations in the future. Expresses Unrealistic imaginations in the past.


Conditionals If-Clause/Principal Clause
0th (zeroth) Present Indefinite (V1) Present Indefinite (V1)
1st Present Indefinite (V1) Future Indefinite (Will + V1)
2nd Past Indefinite (V2) Would + V1
3rd Past perfect (had + V3) Would have + V3




Now let us explain one by one:

Zero Conditional Sentences: 

Zero conditional sentences express general truths. It means if one thing happen, the other thing also happens as a result of the first.
Look at the following examples – 

  • If you boil water to 100°C, it gets vapoured.
  • If I don’t drink water, my body becomes dehydrated. 
  • If you cut the branches of a tree, they grow again.
  • If we don’t make noise, our teachers don’t scold us.
  • The price increases, if the demand increases.

Syntax: 
We have learnt that the verb of the principal clause is usually in future tense. But, to express habitual action and result, the verb of the principal clause is used in present tense. 

1st Conditional Sentences:

The 1st Conditional Sentences express possible / realistic imaginations in the future.
E.g. – 
  • If she comes, John will tell her everything.

Syntax: 

If clause with a verb in present tense. And the main clause with a verb in the future (shall/will + V1).

If + subject + verb (present tense) + object + , + subject 2 + will/shall + verb + object.

More examples –
  • If it rains, I’ll use an umbrella.
  • I shall not buy you chocolates if you don’t listen to me.


2nd Conditional Sentences:

The 2nd Conditional Sentences express impossible unrealistic imagination in the future.

E.g. – 
  • If I had a pen I would give it to you

Structure – 
If + subject + Verb 2 + object + , + subject + would + verb 1 + object. 

Remember this conditional sentence expresses unrealistic imagination of the future, though the past form of the verb (verb 2) is used in the if-clause.

Other examples – 
  • If I won a lottery, I would buy a new car.
  • If John worked hard, he would pass the exam.
  • If we played the first round well, we would qualify for the final.
  • If the man got the job, he would be very happy.


 Exception: 

Sometimes, 2nd conditional also express  unrealistic imagination of the present.

 For this, the subordinate clause starts with some phrases like if only, as though, as if, I wish ('if' too) etc. is followed by (subject + V2) or (subject + were), then the verb used in the main clause, should be in the past

E.g. – 
  • Her father talks as though he knew everything.
If you analyse the sentence above, you can find that the subordinate clause is starting with 'as though' one of the phrases. 

And the verb used after the phrase, is un past (knew), unlike the 2nd Conditional rule where would + V1 is used.


Structures: 

Main clause + one of the phrases + subject + verb 2 + object.
Or,
One of the phrases + subject + verb 2 + object + Main clause.

(Mainly these two structures are followed. There are several variations of it.)

More examples:
  • I wish I went to a hill-station.
  • If I were a horse, I would run to my mother.
  • She acts as if she were the president.


3rd Conditional Sentences:

3rd conditional sentences are used to express that the present circumstances would have been different if something different had happened in the past. 

For example–
  • If you had worked hard, you would have succeeded.
The sentence states a condition that if someone had worked hard, he would have succeeded. But in reality he did not do that and so he didn’t succeed.

More such examples are as follows. –

  • If I had known the answer, I would have told you. (But I didn’t know the answer.)
  • If she had been present here, she would have helped us. (But she was not present there).
  • His father would have been upset if he had found you there. (But his father didn’t find him there.)

 Exception: 

When the verb of the main clause is in past use subject + had + V3 after if, if only, as if, as though, I wish, we wish etc.
For example,
  • The man talked as if he had known everything. 
In the sentence above you can see that the verb used in the main clause, in in past tense (talked). For this reason, the verb of the subordinate clause is in past perfect.
 

Other examples: 
  • She acted as though she had drunk.
  • I wish, I had been a bird.
  • If I had been the president, I put all of them behind bars.

Inversions of the 3rd conditional sentences: 

Now here comes tricky part. We, as students, are often confused when they come across sentences starting with auxiliary verbs like had, were etc. 
Actually they all are 3rd conditional sentences with inversions of the structures. 

Let's look at the table below and see how they are inverted.

3rd Conditional Structures Its Inversions
If + subject + had + V3, ... Had + subject + V3, ...
If + subject + had been + object Had + subject + been + object
If + subject + were + object. Were + subject + object


Examples:

If I were the President – Were I the president. 
If you were I – Were you I. 
If I had been a bird – Had I been a bird.












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