The Conditionals: Regular (Zero and First)
New year, new me — as the saying goes. But some things should not change. Like grammar. :BaDumTss:
Conditional sentences are one of those grammatical lessons that people find difficult to digest. One of the reasons behind this is the lack of logic that follows English tenses. Just imagine — you spend years learning the 12 tenses and all of a sudden a wild conditional shows up saying that we need to use present tenses to talk about the future or past tenses to talk about the present (or the future). Lord almighty!
Yet, there’s no need to worry, as we will cover each of these beasts and help you tame them. Also, we will do our best to point out why sticking to grammatical rules is equally important, especially if we don’t want to be misunderstood.
The Zero Conditional
Many people, when discussing this topic, don’t include the Zero Conditional into regular conditionals. Why? Well, probably because of its limited usage and the fact that we don’t really put any real conditions when constructing sentences with them.
To illustrate, we can take a look at these examples:
- When I have my English class, Sreten talks about grammar. (impossible!)
- If I don’t attend my English class, Sreten still talks about grammar. (no way!)
- As soon as I come home from work, I diligently open my English workbook and do my homework. (pinky-swear!)
We can see here that Sreten will go on about grammar regardless of someone’s attendance. Also, we can see that this is a regular event, which is the essence of the Zero Conditional — to talk about repeating events by using if/when/as soon as/etc. with the present simple in one part of the sentence (one clause, the condition) and again the present simple in the other part (a new clause, the consequence).
The First Conditional
In comparison with the Zero Conditional, the First Conditional does not talk about the present but about the future events — one or more of them, single or recurring ones. To illustrate this, let’s take a look at the following examples:
- When I have my English class (tomorrow), Sreten will talk about grammar.
- If I don’t attend my English class (in the future), Sreten will still talk about grammar.
- As soon as I come home (after work), I will diligently open my English workbook and do my homework. (pinky-swear again!)
By using the same sentences and making conditional changes, we can see a clear difference between the examples, i.e. the two conditionals. Also, we can conclude that if we want to talk about the future, we need to put will + the infinitive in one part of the sentence — the consequential part, and present simple with if/when/as soon as — the conditional part (just as with the Zero Conditional).
An important thing to remember is that we must not use WILL in the conditional part (if + will = a big no-no). On the other hand, we can use CAN/SHOULD/MAY/MIGHT/HAVE TO/NEED TO instead of WILL (or in the conditional part of the sentence):
- If Sreten will talk about grammar, I will not join the class. (this is an incorrect sentence, as we cannot use IF/WHEN/etc. + WILL).
- If Sreten is going to talk about grammar, I will/can/etc. not join the class (a correct sentence, but Sreten will give you the look)
- If Sreten talks about grammar, I will not join the class. (this is a correct sentence, although one should not skip Sreten’s classes)
- If Sreten talks about grammar, I can skip a class. (a correct sentence, but skipping should not be an option)
- If Sreten can talk about grammar, I can skip a class! (a correct sentence and a valid point, too)
In the next Newsretten, we will proceed to discuss the Second Conditional; but until then, here are some links for you to improve the knowledge on these two conditionals:
- The First Conditional and Future Time Clauses (A2 level)
- The First Conditional and Future Time Clauses (B1 level)
- The Zero and the First Conditional and Future Time Clauses (B2 level)
Till next week,