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Advanced Level: Present Conditionals

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There are two kinds of conditional sentences: real and unreal. Real Conditional describes real-life situations. Unreal Conditional describes unreal, imaginary situations. Although the various conditional forms might seem quite abstract at first, they are actually some of the most useful structures in English and are commonly included in daily conversations.

Lesson by Tristan, teacher at EC Malta English school

Present Real Conditionals

The Present Real Conditional is used to talk about what you normally do in real-life situations.

If I go to a friend's house for dinner, I usually take a bottle of wine..
When I have a day off from work, I often go to the beach.
If the weather is nice, Sarah walks to work.
Danny 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 Rome?
B: I stay with my friends near the historical centre.


Both "if" and "when" are used in the Present Real Conditional. Using "if" suggests that something happens less frequently. Using "when" suggests 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.

Present Unreal Conditional

The Present Unreal Conditional 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.
Christine 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.
Linda would move to Spain if she spoke Spanish.
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 New York.

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.

If he were French, he would live in Paris.
If she were rich, she would buy a yacht.
I would play basketball if I were taller.
I would buy that computer if it were cheaper.
I would buy that computer if it was cheaper.
 Not Correct (But often said in conversation.)

Important -  Only use "If":

Only the word "if" is used with the Present Unreal Conditional because you are discussing imaginary situations. "When" cannot be used.


I would buy that computer when it were cheaper. Not Correct
I would buy that computer if it were cheaper. Correct

Exception -  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 conditional, 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

Now complete the following using if or when:

  • 1. _ I am late for work, my boss gets very angry. That’s why I am always on time.

  • 2. _ I leave work, I usually go to a café to relax before I go home.

  • 3. _ Sarah is at a restaurant, she usually chooses vegetarian meals.

  • 4. Danny's car hardly ever breaks down. But _ it does, he just calls his dad who is a mechanic.

  • 5. Peter’s car is so old it’s always breaking down. _ it does, he calls the tow company and walks.

  • 6. Pat gets a lot of holidays in a year. _ she goes on holiday she always goes to India.

  • 7. Terry works too hard. _ she has a holiday, she just stays at home.

  • 8. _ Pete goes to the movies, he always buys a large popcorn and a cola.

  • 9. I rarely go to the movies. _ I do, I choose action films.

  • 10. I hardly ever write letters just e-mails but _ I do, I make sure they’re well written.