A conditional sentence simply tries to imagine the possible outcome in a certain condition. Also referred to as the ‘if clause’, the sentence is meant to describe the expected result should something happen either in the present or future or if something was to happen but for some reasons it didn’t.
Commonly, conditionals speak about real events that happen all the time. They can also speak about imagined events or imagined past events.
Put simply, the basic structure underlying how conditional sentences are formed follows a simple formula, “if this, then that.”
In the logical field, a conditional sentence is at times referred to as ‘an implication’.
Worth noting is that conditionals are generally made of two clauses – an ‘if clause’ and the main clause. The two clauses must be closely related and connected to complete the sentence and make logical sense.
Types of Conditionals:
Conditional are broadly classified into FOUR different categories.
- Zero Conditionals.
- First Conditionals.
- Second Conditionals.
- Third Conditionals.
Zero conditionals are more factual in nature. They’re simply focused on undisputable facts or what’s bound to happen after a certain occurrence. In other words, they address the truth, and examples include:
- If you slaughter a chicken, it dies.
- If you see the moon, it’s night.
- If you start sneezing, then it’s either you’re allergic to something or have a cold.
- If you switch on the bulb it will light.
First conditionals are mostly used when talking about possible situations or what’s likely to happen under certain circumstances.
- If she wins today, she’ll be heading straight to quarterfinals.
- If it rains today, then I won’t leave the house.
- We’ll go shopping tomorrow if the client makes her payments on time.
From the last example, it’s safe to say that the ‘if clause’ and the ‘main clause’ can be interchanged and still make sense. It doesn’t matter which one comes first so long as the two sentences connect and there are a strong relationship and some sort of dependency between them.
Second conditionals address unreal or impossible things. These are things that are unlikely to happen or there’s only a small possibility of them happening.
In other words, these conditionals are, in a way, wishful thinking.
- If I won the lottery, I’d buy my mama a Lamborghini.
- What are some of the city you’d be traveling to if money was NOT a problem?
- If you had managed to quit smoking, you’d be in good health right now.
These conditionals follow a simple sentence structure ‘if + past simple (for the ‘if clause’) and would + infinitive (for the main clause).
Now look at the difference between the two sentences below:
- Around January: If it rains today, I’ll skip swimming.
- Around May: If it rained today, I’d skip swimming.
For the first example, there’s a fair chance that it might rain today. The possibility of it raining today is on the extreme high compared to the second example.
For the second example, it’s safe to say the speaker is certain that it’s NOT going to rain today, but wishes that it actually rained so he could skip swimming.
Conditionals sentence are NOT limited to using ‘if’ + will/would only. In which case, other words can still be used in the place of ‘if’. For instance, it’s possible to replace the ‘if’ in a sentence with ‘as soon as’. Other modal verbs such as ‘can’, ‘could’, ‘might’, and ‘may’ could also be used in the place of ‘will’ or ‘would’.
Examples in a sentence:
- I’ll leave for home if he shows up right now.
- I’ll leave for home as soon as he shows up.
Third conditionals are normally used when talking about an unreal past. These are the imaginary situations in the past that never really happened, and which you really wish happened.
- If I had remembered to use contraceptives the last time we were together, I wouldn’t be pregnant as we speak.
- If she’d asked him out last night, she wouldn’t be still single.
- If people spoke their mind, then the world would be a much better place than it already is.
- If I had drunk coffee before going to bed, I’d be deep asleep by now.
To put it quite simply, this type of conditionals is more focused on an expired past. The subject is simply looking at their past and wishing that they had done something about it to alter the outcome or the current turn of events.