Conditional sentences in English are used to talk about events and their results.
The first (1st) conditional is the possible conditional. It is used to talk about possible future events and their likely results.
If this event happens or if this condition exists, this will likely happen.
You can use the the first conditional to talk about predictions, superstitions, future plans, warnings & threats, and offers & suggestions. These are things that are real, so this conditional is also called the future real conditional.
A quick review: There are two parts to a conditional sentence. There is an if-clause (also called the conditional-clause) and a main-clause or result-clause. The if-clause contains the condition (the event or situation that must happen first), and the main-clause, which is the result. The two events are connected. One event or situation is a condition for another event or situation.
Learn more: What are conditional sentences?
The First Conditional Structure
Take a look at this situation:
If I’m late tonight
This is the condition or the possible event, but this is not a complete sentence. There is some information missing. What will happen if I’m late tonight? We need another clause to explain the likely result.
Take a look at this result:
my mom will be angry
This is a complete sentence, but there is also some information missing. Why will my mom be angry? What condition, event, or situation will make my mom angry?
If I’m late tonight, my mom will be angry.
Will my mom be angry tonight if I’m late? Maybe. Probably. She may not be angry, but there is a real possibility that she will be angry. In the first conditional structure, the if-clause has a 50% or better chance of happening.
This is the first conditional sentence structure:
If + present simple, will + verb
Yes, you use the present simple tense even though you are talking about a future event. That’s OK! You can use the the present simple after a conjunction to talk about a future event.
Now that you understand how to form the first conditional, let’s focus on when to use it.
A prediction a statement you make about what you think will happen in the future. You can use the first conditional sentence structure to say what you think will happen in a specific situation or when a specific event happens.
If you don’t hurry, you’ll be late for work.
If you stay out in the rain too long, you’ll get sick!
If you eat too much chocolate cake, you’ll get fat!
If I win the lottery, I’ll buy a new house!
A superstition is a belief that an event or situation will bring good luck or bad luck.
If you break a mirror, you will have 7 years of bad luck!
If you see a penny on the ground and pick it up, it will bring you good luck!
If you walk under a ladder, you will have bad luck!
If you find a four-leaf clover, you will have good luck!
3. Future plans
You can use the first conditional sentence structure to make plans for the future if an event or situation happens first.
If you go shopping tomorrow, I’ll go with you!
If I see Ken later today, I will tell him to call you.
If you have an extra ticket, I’ll go to the concert with you!
4. Warnings and threats
A warning is a statement about a possible problem or danger. A threat is a statement that someone will harm your or cause problems for you if you don’t do what they want you to do.
Slow down! If the police catch you speeding, you’ll get a ticket.
If you don’t come to my birthday party, I’ll never speak to you again.
If you say that again, I will hurt you!
a. You can change the order of the clauses.
You don’t need a comma between the clauses when the if-clause is after the result-clause.
comma: If this event or condition happens, this will likely happen.
no comma: This will likely happen if this event or condition happens.
My mom will be angry if I’m late tonight.
You’ll be late for work if you don’t hurry.
You will have bad luck if you open an umbrella indoors.
b. You can make one or both clauses negative.
Use won’t in the if-clause.
If you don’t put your toys away, you won’t get any dessert.
If you don’t study, you won’t get into a good university.
If I go out tonight, I won’t go out tomorrow night.
You can use unless instead of if … not in the if-clause:
You won’t get any dessert unless you put your toys away.
You won’t get into a good university unless you study.
Use the result-clause first. It sounds more formal if you use unless first:
Unless you put your toys away, you won’t get any dessert.
c. You can use other modal verbs instead of will.
A modal verb is an auxiliary verb. It is a helping verb. It is used before another verb to express ideas such as ability, possibility, certainty, necessity, or permission.
There are other modal verbs you can use in the result-clause instead of will that will still communicate a future possible result.
be going to
I’m going to buy a new car next year if I have enough money.
If you don’t give me back my sweater right now, I’m going to scream!
She’s going to take a vacation next week if she gets time off work.
may and might
You can use may or might to say that the future event is possible, but not definite. (The if-clause has less than a 50% chance of happening.)
If you need someone to help you move, I might be able to help.
If it’s a sunny day tomorrow, we might have a pool party.
If we hurry, we might catch the early train.
d. You can also use modal verbs in the result-clause for offers and suggestions.
An offer is a statement in which you give someone an opportunity to accept or take something. A suggestion is a statement about the way that you think someone should do something or behave.
You can use the modals can or should when you talk about an offer or a suggestion.
If you get a new job, you should really buy nicer clothes!
I can get you a ticket to the Madonna concert if you want to go!
e. You can use the imperative in the result-clause.
The imperative is the verb form you use when you give someone an order or tell someone what to do.
The imperative can be used in the result clause.
If you call your mother tonight, tell her I said “hello”!
Remember to buy some bananas if you go to the supermarket.
If anyone calls for me, tell them I’m not home!
f. You can use questions in the result-clause.
Use the regular question word order. The question is never in the if-clause.
What are you going to do if it rains tomorrow?
If you can’t drive to work, how will you get there?
If you are sick tomorrow, will someone else be able to do your work?
If you have a minute, can you please check this for me?
g. You can use other conjunctions instead of if.
You can use conjunctions of time, like when, before, after, as soon as, or until, instead of if in the if-clause.
Using these conjunctions means that the situation goes from possible to definite or for sure.
I’ll wash the dishes when my TV show is over.
I’ll come inside when it gets dark.
He’s going to be a policeman when he’s older!
Call me when you get home.
I’ll finish this report before I leave tonight.
Please take the garbage out before you go to work today.
He’ll call you before he goes out tonight.
I’ll eat dinner after I finish my homework
After she graduates from university she’ll need to find a job!
Tell me what you think of the movie after you see it!
I’ll sit outside until it gets dark.
I will keep looking for my car keys until I find them!
We’ll wait until the rain stops, then we’ll go outside.
As soon as
I’ll wash the dishes as soon as this TV show is over.
Call me as soon as you get in.
We’ll start the meeting as soon as the CEO arrives.
The band will start playing as soon as everyone arrives.
h. And you can use other verb tenses in one or both clauses. Why is English so confusing???
You can use other verb tenses as long as you follow this basic form:
If + present tense, future tense
If you’re waiting for an answer, you’ll be waiting for a long time.
If you’re going shopping today, I’ll come with you!
If you’re going out tonight, wear a coat.
the present perfect
If you’ve never been to Rome, you’ll love it!
If you’ve read the Harry Potter books, you will love the Harry Potter movies!
If you haven’t heard from her by tonight, give her a call.
the present perfect with when and after.
When I have saved enough money, I’m going to buy a car!
After I’ve found a job, I’ll look for a place to live.
You’ll feel better after you have something to eat.
I just wanted to say well done for your great website and thanks for all of the hard work you have put into this! I am preparing for my first TEFL interview, which is taking place tomorrow, and your website is really helpful. I’m also finding the student questions and your answers to be really insightful.
Thanks again, Deborah.
Thanks Melanie – really useful, compact and straightforward explanations!
Aly Jay says
Thanks, very informative, easy to understand and straight to the point.