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English - Conditionals

There are two kinds of conditional sentences in English: real and unreal.

Real conditional describes real-life situations.

Unreal conditional describes unreal, imaginary situations.

Although conditional forms might seem abstract at first, they are actually very useful and are commonly used in daily conversation.

What does abstract mean?
Abstract means that which is not straightforward or does not show something as it is in real life.

Here’s something abstract - what does it show?


Earth Flowers by Zuzana-Petrakova

Using the real conditional.

The present real conditional (also called conditional 0) is used to talk about what you normally do in real-life situations. What we do every day, real life - nothing difficult.

• If I go to a friend's house for dinner, I usually take a bottle of wine or some flowers.
• When I have a day off from work, I often go to the beach.
• If the weather is nice, she walks to work.
• Jerry helps me with my homework when he has time.
• I read if there is nothing on TV.

A: What do you do when it rains?

B: I stay at home.

A: Where do you stay if you go to Sydney?

B: I stay with my friends near the harbour.

The words in bold are conditionals.

NOTE: If / When
Both “if” and “when” are used in the present real conditional.
Using if suggests that something happens less frequently.
Using whensuggests that something happens regularly.


When I have a day off from work, I usually go to the beach.

I regularly have days off from work.

If I have a day off from work, I usually go to the beach.

I rarely have days off from work.

Using the unreal conditional.
The present unreal conditional (also called conditional 2) is used to talk about what you would generally do in imaginary situations.

• If I owned a car, I would drive to work. (But I don't own a car.)
• She would travel around the world if she had more money. (But she doesn't have much money.)
• I would read more if I didn't watch so much TV.
• Mary would move to Japan if she spoke Japanese.
• If they worked harder, they would earn more money.

A: What would you do if you won the lottery?

B: I would buy a house.

A: Where would you live if you moved to the U.S.?

B: I would live in Seattle.

But there’s an exception: If I were ...
In the present unreal conditional, the form “was” is not considered grammatically correct.
In written English or in testing situations, you should always use “were”. However, in everyday conversation, “was” is often used.

Check out this song: (it has lyrics, so follow the words too please).

Examples, (with everyday speech in parentheses):

• If he were French, he would live in Paris. (OR If he was French, he would live in Paris.)
• If she were rich, she would buy a yacht. (OR If she was rich, she would buy a yacht.)
• I would play basketball if I were taller. (OR I would play basketball if I was taller.)
• I would buy that computer if it were cheaper.

Note: I would buy that computer if it was cheaper. This is not correct, but often said in conversation.)

So, in writing, ‘were’ is correct but as language changes, we use ‘was’ in everyday speech.

The word "IF"
Only the word “if” is used with the present unreal conditional because you are discussing imaginary situations. “When” cannot be used.

Here are some examples:

I would buy that computer when it were cheaper.
Not correct. You might buy it at a time the price is less - at a cheaper price; but the correct sentence would have been: I would have (or should) bought that computer when it was cheaper.

I would buy that computer if it were cheaper.
Correct. It means that if the price is less, you would buy the computer.

Conditional with Modal Verbs

There are some special conditional forms for modal verbs in English:

would + can = could

would + shall = should

would + may = might

The words “can”, “shall” and “may” cannot be used with “would”. Instead, they must be used in these special forms.

• If I went to Egypt, I would can learn Arabic. Not Correct.
• If I went to Egypt, I could learn Arabic. Correct.

• If she had time, she would may go to the party. Not Correct.
• If she had time, she might go to the party. Correct.

The words “could”, should”, “might” and “ought to” include conditionals, so you cannot combine them with “would”.

• If I had more time, I would could exercise after work. Not Correct.
• If I had more time, I could exercise after work. Correct.

• If he invited you, you really would should go. Not Correct.
• If he invited you, you really should go. Correct.


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