The First and Second Conditional: A Quick Guide

It seems like there’s nothing else to think about these days: COVID-19 has changed everything.

You know by now that you should stay inside as much as possible. If you read our post 6 Tips for Keeping Busy During a Pandemic, maybe you’ve been enjoying some of the at-home activities we suggested. Hopefully, you’ve been playing online games, learning new recipes, or taking virtual museum tours!

But even if you’re keeping busy and making the most of your time at home, you’re probably also thinking a lot about life outside of your home. 

You’re likely missing your old life and your favourite activities!

Maybe you’re thinking of the things you’ll do outdoors when the pandemic is over. Perhaps you’re picturing all the visits you’ll have with your friends. You might be imagining where you’d eat if you could go out right now.

These kinds of thoughts can all be expressed using two different structures: The first conditional and the second conditional. 

Let’s discuss them now!

What Is the First Conditional? 

The first conditional is used to talk about the future. You use it when you’re thinking about a specific situation in the future, and the result (what you will do in that situation). The first conditional is for real or possible situations.

There are a few different words you can use with the first conditional, but in this post, we’re  going to focus on “if,” “when,” and “as soon as.” (“As soon as” refers to what you’ll do immediately after something else happens.)

The first conditional looks like this:

if/when/as soon assituation (present simple)result (will/won’t + base verb)
If the pandemic ends soonwe will celebrate.
As soon aswe’re allowed in restaurantswe’ll have a big dinner.
Whenthey find a cureI will go back to my office.
As soon asthe parks are openI’ll play soccer.

What Is the Second Conditional?

The second conditional is used to talk about things that are not a real possibility—that’s why it’s also called the “unreal conditional.” 

When you use this structure, you’re talking about an imaginary situation, and the result (what you would do in that situation).

It usually looks like this:

if situation (past simple)result (would/wouldn’t + base verb)
IfI could visit my friendsI would bring them a cake.
If I were* presidentI would make strict safety rules.
IfI had a big gardenI’d stay outside all day.

*If you’re using the “be” verb in the second conditional, use “were” for all persons.

Let’s look at why the above situations are “unreal” (not possible):

→ You would bring your friends a cake, but you can’t because you need to stay home.

→ You would make strict safety rules, but you can’t because you’re not the president.

→ You would stay outside all day, but you can’t because you don’t have a big garden.

Looking Forward to the Future

What about you? What will you do as soon as this pandemic is over?

Andrea is a Gabby Academy coach and education technolgy writer based in Vancouver, Canada.