Is this the first conditional that you learnt at school? There are four main conditionals in English: zero, first, second and third. The first conditional, which we’re looking at today, is used to talk about things we think will happen in the future. It is used to talk about things that have a real possibility of happening.
The structure of the first conditional
The first conditional is made of two clauses: the conditional clause and the main or result clause. The structure of a sentence in the first conditional is:
|Conditional clause||Main / result clause|
|If + present simple,||will + verb.|
- If I finish my homework, I will go out tonight.
We can change the order of the clauses in the first conditional without changing the meaning. If the main clause comes first in a conditional sentence, we don’t need a comma.
- I will go out tonight if I finish my homework.
We can use when instead of if in the first conditional. Using when means that you are sure something is going to happen.
- I will go out tonight when I finish my homework.
Here are some more examples of first conditional sentences referring to future possibilities. You can see that you can use positive and negative clauses in the first conditional, and we can make questions. We only use questions in the main clause.
- If I sit in the sun too long, I will get burnt.
- John will be really upset if we don’t go to his party.
- If they buy me a present, I will be really surprised.
- I will go to work if I don’t feel ill again tomorrow.
- If mum calls, will you tell her I’m on my way?
- Will you cook dinner if I wash up?
More present tenses in the first conditional
The most simple first conditional sentences use the present simple in the if clause. However, you can use any present tense in this clause when you get more confident using this conditional. Here are a couple of examples.
- If it is raining tomorrow, we won’t go to the beach. (present continuous)
- If he has finished the job, I will pay him. (present perfect)
Going to in the first conditional
We can use the future with going to instead of will in the first conditional. Going to implies a more certain future than will.
- If no one comes to my birthday party, I’m going to be really unhappy.
- John is going to buy that house if he has enough money.
Other modal verbs in the first conditional
We can replace will with other modal verbs in the first conditional. Remember that, like will, modal verbs must be followed by another verb.
- If it is nice weather tomorrow, I might go to the park.
- If your mum says yes, you can go to the party.
- You must call us if your train is late tonight.
Replacing if in the first conditional
We can use other words apart from if in the first conditional. It is common to use the phrases unless, as long as / provided that, as soon as, and in case.
Unless means if not.
- I will ask him to help unless he is in a bad mood. (I will ask him to help if he is not in a bad mood.)
- Unless I get a raise, I will quit my job.
As long as
As long as and provided that are strong ways to say if. Provided that is a formal phrase.
- I will babysit tonight as long as you pay me double.
- You can go tonight provided (that) you call when you arrive.
As soon as
As soon as means that this will happen immediately after something else has happened.
- As soon as Gemma arrives, I will take you home.
- Amy is going to buy a new car as soon as she gets her bonus from work.
We use the phrase in case to talk about things we do to prepare for possible things in the future.
- I will take my hiking boots in case I have time to go for a walk.
- I will leave a plate of food in the fridge in case she’s hungry when she gets home.
If you have to use the first conditional, will you feel confident about it?