0 (zero) and 1st (First) Conditionals

The Structure and usage of basic conditionals in English is relatively straightforward and can be easily explained. Today’s grammar blog deals with the zero and first conditionals which are the most basic of all the conditionals.

The zero conditional is actually not considered to be a true conditional structure as there is no condition. It is simply a matter of fact. Structurally, however, it can be grouped in with the conditionals as it functions in a similar way.

Zero conditional

e.g.

  • If I eat peanuts, I get very sick.
  • If you add 5 and 5, you get 10.

As you can see, there is no condition in these examples. Particularly in the last example, it is clear that this structure is used to talk about facts that are true and not dependent upon certain conditions.

Let’s look at the structure:

If you add 5 and 5 (subordinate clause), you get 10 (main clause).

Notice that both the main clause and the subordinate clause are in present simple. This indicates that this is a zero conditional sentence. Any sentence that contains a subordinate clause beginning with “if” in the present simple and a main clause in the present simple is a zero conditional sentence and describes a fact that is always true given the combination of events and does not imply any element of human choice.

First Conditional

The first conditional is quite similar to the zero conditional in terms of meaning. However, the first conditional implies an element of human choice. Have a look at some examples:

  • If it rains, I’ll take an umbrella.
  • If you like, I’ll come at 7 o’clock.
  • I’ll be happy if I pass my exam.

Here you can see that the conditions describe possible situations (i.e. not entirely hypothetical situations) and include an element of human choice. They decide a definite course of events given that certain conditions are met.

Let’s look at the structure:

If it rains (subordinate clause), I’ll take an umbrella (main clause)

Notice that the subordinate clause here is, as in the zero conditional, in the present simple. This means that the sentence is possible/probable, rather than hypothetical. However, the main clause is in the future simple tense which, in the case of conditional sentences implies an element of human choice. A sentence constructed with a present simple subordinate clause and a future simple main clause is a first conditional sentence. It refers to a possible/probable condition which will result in a chosen consequence.

Conclusion

Zero and first conditional sentences both have subordinate clauses in the present simple. Both refer to real, possible or probable situations. Zero conditional sentences (which are not true conditionals) speak of facts. First conditional sentences have a subordinate clause in the present simple but a main clause in the future simple (usually “will” but possibly “going to”). They are more about human choice but refer to expected consequences of certain conditions.

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