Conditional Verbs  

What is a conditional verb?

Conditional verbs are constructions of verbs that are used in conditional sentences. Conditional sentences express something that might happen, depending on whether or not a particular condition is met. The word if is commonly used with one of the verbs to denote such a condition in conditional sentences.
Here are some examples of conditional verbs being used in sentences.
  • “The leaves will fall if the wind blows.”
  • If you drive on this road for 20 miles, you will reach your destination.”
  • If only the striker had shot the ball earlier, he would have scored a goal.”
  • If you do your chores, you can have an ice cream cone later.”
  • “You can get a good grade if you study very hard.”

Constructing conditional verbs

Conditional verbs are typically formed when a clause in the sentence contains the word if, and the action of the sentence depends on the condition established by this clause. Modal auxiliary verbs (such as can, will, would, shall, should, and could) are often used to help indicate the tense and intention of the verbs in the conditional or resulting clause(s). For example
  • If you see the desert, it could mean that you have gone too far.
  • If you see her, you can tell her I said ‘Hello.’”
  • If I could be anyone in history, I would be Leonardo da Vinci.”


Conditional verbs can be in the past, present, or future tense. Which tense they take depends on whether the sentence is referring to a condition or possible result in the past, the present, or the future. Conditional sentences often feature a mix of tenses depending on the relationship between the condition and the result.

Past tense

The past tense is used for conditional verbs when the sentence refers to an action or event that might have happened in the past depending on a hypothetical past condition. For example:
  • “She would have succeeded if she had tried harder.”
  • “The cake would have been ready if the baker had hurried up a little bit more.”

Present simple tense

A conditional sentence that is only in the present simple tense refers to something that always happens when a condition is met. For example:
  • “The television turns on if you press the power button.”
  • “The car moves faster if you press the pedal down harder.”

Future tense

The future tense is used to describe hypothetical future results. It is often used with conditions in the present tense to describe what might happen. For example:
  • “If our team wins the World Series, it will be amazing.”
  • “The sheep will escape if the fence is left unlocked.”

Types of Conditionals

There are different types of conditionals that express a range of hypothetical information depending on the combination of verb tenses used in the conditional sentence.

Zero conditional

The zero conditional refers to conditional sentences in which the “if clause” and the main clause both contain conditional verbs that are in the simple present tense. It is used to talk about facts that are always true.

First conditional

First conditional sentences contain a conditional verb in the simple present tense in the “if clause,” and a future tense verb preceded by the auxiliary verb will in the main clause. First conditional sentences explain a hypothetical result in the future depending on a non-real condition in the present.

Second conditional

Second conditional sentences include a simple past tense verb in the “if clause” and a future tense verb in the main clause, preceded by the auxiliary verb would. These sentences refer to things that would happen in the future if something else happens.

Third conditional

Third conditional sentences have a past perfect verb in the “if clause” and have a past participle verb in the main clause, preceded by the auxiliary verbs would have. Third conditional sentences describe a hypothetical situation or condition in the past that might have led to a different outcome in the present.
If you want to learn more about these types of sentences, see the Conditional Sentences section in the chapter on Sentences.

1. Which word in the following sentence is a conditional verb?
“If clouds form on the horizon, it will likely rain.”

2. The conditional verbs in the following sentence are in which tense?
“The pie will taste delicious if you make it properly.”

3. Which set of conditional verbs is in the past tense?

4. Which word in the following sentence is not a conditional verb?
“The band will have played for three hours if it plays for another 20 minutes.”

5. Identify the conditional verbs in the following sentence.
“If everything goes according to plan, the group will arrive on Tuesday.”

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