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Session 2

Have you ever wondered how to talk about facts and truths in English? What about discussing the possible results of your actions? In this session we look at the zero and first conditionals - how we form them and what they mean. If you do these activities, you will improve your grammar!

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    Activity 3

Activity 3

6 Minute Grammar

Zero and first conditionals

Neil and Catherine take a look at the zero and first conditionals. Learn how to make them and when to use them, listen to some example sentences and test what you've learnt in the quiz at the end of the programme.

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Neil
Hello. Welcome to 6 Minute Grammar with me, Neil.

Catherine   
And me, Catherine. Hello.

Neil   
Now, Catherine, would you like to have some of this delicious chocolate I've got here? 

Catherine   
Oh Neil, I'd love to but I can't. When I eat chocolate, I get terrible headaches. 

Neil   
Oh that's bad luck! If I eat a lot of chocolate, I just get fat! 

Catherine   
Do you? You don't look it, you look thin!

Neil   
It's all the cycling you see. I can eat whatever I want because of all the cycling.

Catherine
Lucky you.

Neil
Now, in this programme, we're looking at the zero conditional and the first conditional.

Catherine   
We'll be discussing why and when we use them.

Neil
We'll see how to form them...

Catherine   
We'll help you decide which one to use in which situation...

Neil   
And we'll bring you a quiz at the end of the show.

Catherine
So listen carefully - and take some notes!

Neil   
Let's start by looking at the zero conditional. We use it to talk about things which always happen in particular situations.

Catherine   
For example, I always get a headache if I eat chocolate. We also use the zero conditional to talk about facts and truths. And here's Finn with our first example.

Finn 
If you drop an apple, it falls to the ground.

Neil   
That's gravity for you! Now, there are two parts to the sentence. The part with if plus the present simple tells us the situation, and the other part is in the present simple tense, and tells us what happens as a result of the if situation. Here's Finn with an example of the if situation:

Finn  
If you drop an apple...

And I'll say that again: If you drop an apple...

Catherine   
And the result:

Finn  
...it falls to the ground.

Catherine
Once more:

Finn  
...it falls to the ground.

Neil   
And this result happens every time the situation happens. Isn't that right, Catherine?

Catherine   
That's correct Neil. It's a scientific fact - and it was first identified by Isaac Newton, I believe.

Neil   
I think you're right! So that's the zero conditional. Let's compare it with an example of the first conditional. Finn. 

Finn 
If you drop that glass, it'll break.

Catherine
And once again:

Finn 
If you drop that glass, it'll break.

Catherine   
Now, in this sentence the if plus present simple part gives us a possible future situation. The other part is made with will plus an infinitive without 'to' and it gives us the result of this possible future situation.

Finn  
If you drop that glass...

If you drop that glass...

Catherine   
And this is only a possible situation.

Finn  
...it'll break.

...it'll break.

Catherine   
And this is the result of the situation. We use will to show we are certain that the glass will break. But it only breaks if we drop the glass. 

Neil   
When we are less certain of the result we can use might, like this: 

Finn  
If you drop the glass, it might break.

Catherine
And once again:

Finn  
If you drop the glass, it might break.

Neil   
It's sometimes difficult to choose between the zero and first conditional. It helps to remember that as well as using the zero conditional for truths, we also use it for general situations. If you're talking about a specific situation, or a one-off situation, the first conditional is probably best. For example, to describe a general situation that is true for everyone, we can use the zero conditional to say:

Finn
If you sit in the sun too long, you get burned.

Catherine
But if your friend is about to go sunbathing, perhaps without any sun cream, you can use the first conditional to talk about that specific situation and its possible result, like this:

Finn
If you sit in the sun too long, you will get burned.

IDENT        
6 Minute Grammar from BBC Learning English.

Catherine   
And it's quiz time! Are these sentences grammatically correct, or wrong? Here's the first one: When we're older, we'll go travelling.

Neil   
OK, this first conditional sentence is correct.

Catherine   
Good. Here's another one: If plants don't get water, they die. 

Neil   
This sentence is correct too. 

Catherine   
OK, get ready for the last sentence: If I fail my exams again, I feel terrible. 

Neil   
And that's wrong. It's a specific situation and it's describing a possibility, not a certainty. So we need the first conditional. Here's the correct sentence: 

Finn 
If I fail my exams again, I will feel terrible. 

Catherine   
Now, before we go, there's just enough time for a top tip. The first conditional only has one 'will'. So this sentence is wrong:

Finn 
If they will leave now, they'll be home for lunch.

Neil   
You need to use present simple without will in the if part. Here's the correct version:

Finn 
If they leave now, they'll be home for lunch. 

Catherine   
Thank you Finn. So that's the zero conditional, with the present tense in both parts, for things which always happen.

Neil   
And that's the first conditional with if plus present simple, together with will, plus an infinitive, for possible future situations.

Catherine   
There's more about this on our website at bbclearningenglish.com. Join us again for more 6 Minute Grammar.

Both 
Bye.

Downloads

You can download 6 Minute Grammar from our Unit 5 Downloads page. Remember, you can also subscribe to the podcast version.

End of Session 2

That's all for this session. Join us in Session 3 where we'll take a look at some English at work! See you there!

Session Grammar

  • Form

    Zero conditional

    Both parts of the sentence are in the present simple

    If you work on the computer too long, your eyes start hurting.
    I get terrible headaches when I eat chocolate.

    The two parts can come in any order

    Your eyes start hurting if you work on the computer too long.
    When I eat chocolate, I get terrible headaches.

    First conditional

    The if/when part of the sentence is in present simple. The result part is will + infinitive (without 'to')

    If you drop that glass, it will break.
    I'll go home when I finish work.

    The two parts can come in any order

    That glass will break if you drop it.
    When I finish work, I'll go home.

    Meaning

    Zero conditional

    Use the zero conditional for facts, things that are generally true or that you believe to be true. You can use if or when and the meaning doesn't change.

    When it rains, the ground gets wet.
    If you drink a lot of fizzy drinks, your teeth get damaged.
    I get a stomachache if I eat too much cake.

    First conditional

    Use the first conditional for possible future results of an action or situation. Using if means that we are not sure about the possible result. Using when means we think the possible result is more likely.

    If you don't take an umbrella, you'll get wet.
    We'll be late if we don't leave soon!
    I'll tell you the good news when I see you.