How To Teach Conditionals


If you were an EFL teacher, How would you teach conditional structures to your students? Well here’s my take on it.



The zero conditional is for general truths or facts. People use this for things they are absolutely certain about, scientific facts, etc…. For when the result of the condition will always happen.

If + Present Simple + Present Simple

If you heat the water, it boils / The water boils if you heat it.

In the zero conditional, you can replace ‘If’ with ‘When’, mostly with no change in the meaning.


The first conditional is used for future events that you think are possible or likely. Things which the speaker thinks could easily happen in the future.

If + Present Simple + Future Simple

If I study, I will pass my English exam.

Remember that the zero conditional is for things that will always happen, whereas the first is for specific situations.

If you eat raw chicken, you get ill. (This will always happen)

If you eat that raw chicken, you will get ill. (In this situation, today)


The second conditional is for things that are totally impossible now (1) or things that we think are very unlikely in the future (2)

If + Past Simple + Would + Infinitive

  1. If I were you, I would quit smoking
  2. If I went to the moon, I would write my name on the ground

Remember that in the second conditional you can exchange the singular pronouns for ‘were’ in the past for a more formal meaning.

If he were really sick, he would go to the doctor.


The third conditional is a hypothesis, things that didn’t happen in the past and what the consequences of them might have been. This would be a good time to explain the idea of modal perfects to your students.

If + Past Perfect + Would + Have + Past Participle

If I had taken one more step, I would have fallen and broken my leg.

Remember that here, as in all conditionals, it’s possible to change the order of the condition and the result. Making sure that the ‘If’ always goes with the condition.

I would have fallen and broken my leg if I had taken one more step.


We use a mix of the second and third conditionals if the condition and the result at not at the same time.

  1. If + Past Perfect + Would + Infinitive

If you hadn’t spent all the holiday money, we would be in Italy right now!

     2. If + Past Simple + Would + Have + Past Participle

If you were allergic to nuts, you shouldn’t have ordered the hazelnut dip!






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