Remember relative clauses? That helpful grammar tool where you can combine two or more ideas into a single sentence? Well, we are going to learn an extension of that when combined with an ‘if’ scenario. In Grammar, these are called ‘conditionals’. There are four of them. Today, we will discuss the first two — zero and first conditionals.
Before we go through the formulas to see how conditionals are constructed, note the usage of each conditional first. I would always encourage ESL learners to know the usage of a grammar rule before trying to forcefully memorise the formulas. Reason? Because if you are not crystal clear on the usage, you will use the formulas in the wrong contexts and describe ideas wrongly. I mean, how many times have you heard people use present continuous to describe a one time action that occurred in the past? If you knew your usage, you would use past simple because that’s what that tool is designed to do — describe a one time action that was completed. The point is, it doesn’t matter if you can memorise grammar formulas and construct flawless sentences — if you use it in the wrong place, you ignore the biggest English rule of them all: Context is KING in English.
So, 0 (zero) conditional. Usage is quite simple. It is used to describe facts that are generally true, things that happen every time as a routine. Now, what does this sound like? Very much like Present simple tense, doesn’t it? Well, in fact they are cousins — so we use not one but two present simple tenses to construct this conditional.
If you heat water to a hundred degrees, it boils. Present simple + Present simple. Separated by a comma. You can clearly see that ‘If you heat water to a hundred degrees’ is the main clause and ‘it boils’ is the dependent clause. Both constructed in present simple tense.
Now more examples:
If the sun rises, it’s called morning.
If I have the time, I study English.
If I drink coffee at night, I don’t sleep well.
OK, onto first conditional. This one is used to predict the future — that is, to describe a possible situation or action in the future. A very useful grammar tool indeed.
If it snows, we will cancel the camping trip. Present simple + will / won’t + verb. You can again see that ‘If it snows’ is constructed using present simple followed by a ‘we WILL CANCEL the camping trip’.
More examples using this construction:
If you work hard in this job, you will make a lot of money
If they wake up late, they will miss the train to Krasnoyarsk.
If Jake attacks David’s dog, he will get bitten and go to the hospital.
Now the zero and first conditionals differ from second and third in a sense that zero and first are based on reality, not hypothetical imaginary situations. Stay tuned for the next article, because we will go through the second and third.