The First Conditional in Action – English Grammar

The first conditional is a useful English grammar structure for talking about future possibilities.

If you watch this video, you’ll see lots of first conditional examples. Hey – we just used a first conditional there! It’s such a useful structure!

First conditionals have two clauses: the condition and possible result. We’ll show you how to form them, make negatives and questions, punctuate them and reverse the order. You’ll learn about a common mistake and the different modal verbs you can use.

And very importantly, you’ll see lots of examples of the first conditional in action.  We have a funny spy story for you to enjoy.

Click here to learn about the zero conditional.
Click here to learn about ‘if’ and ‘in case’.

The first conditional in action

It’s so cold outside.
I know. There’s a big storm coming. They say it might snow.
Oh great!
You want it to snow?
Yeah. If it snows tomorrow, the office will close.
And we can stay home.
And have a day off.

Hi everyone. I’m Vicki and I’m British.
And I’m Jay and I’m American.
This lesson’s about the first conditional – a very useful grammar structure for talking about future possibilities.
We have lots of examples and a story for you – a spy story.
You’ll love it. But first we need to look at the grammar.
In fact, you just heard an example.
We use the first conditional to talk about things that might happen in the future. So this means snow is not certain, but it’s a real possibility tomorrow.
The sentence has two parts, two clauses: one is the condition and one is the possible result. You can reverse the order of the clauses and it means the same thing. If the sentence starts with ‘if’, we generally use a comma. If ‘if’ comes in the middle of the sentence, the comma isn’t necessary.
Let’s look at the verb forms here. We have ‘if’ and then the present simple tense, and then the modal verb ‘will’ and the base form of the verb. Notice we use the present tense in the if clause. So we’re talking about the future, but we’re using the present tense. In some languages you can use a future form here, but not in English. This sentence is wrong, so don’t make this mistake.
So we use the present tense to talk about the future?
Yes, but apart from that, the grammar is straightforward.
What about questions and negatives?
They’re easy too.

If it doesn’t snow tomorrow, the office will stay open.
But it might close. What will you do if we have the day off?
I won’t do any work. I’ll have a pajama day.
Me too. And I’ll watch Game of Thrones.
Attention all employees. Even if it snows tomorrow, the office will stay open. Please report to work promptly.

‘Will’ is a modal verb, so to make a question we reverse the word order. Instead of ‘you will’, say ‘will you’.
Negatives are straightforward too. With normal verbs in the present simple, we use don’t or doesn’t.
With will, it’s different, because will is a modal verb. We use the contraction won’t. Will + not = won’t
So that’s the grammar. Let’s have the story now!
Hang on, I have two questions first.
What?
First one. Can you say ‘when’ instead of ‘if’? You can but the meaning is different.
‘If’ means something may happen. It may snow or it may not. It’s just a possibility and you’re not certain. ‘When’ means something will definitely happen. It’s certain.
So with ‘when’ you know for sure that it’s going to snow. Perhaps you’ve seen the weather radar map.
So it’s a certainty. Not a possibility.
Yes.
What’s the other question?
It’s about ‘will’. Is ‘will’ the only modal verb we can use in a first conditional?
That’s a good question. Why don’t we watch the story and then we can find out?
Good idea.
Watch the story and listen for sentences with ‘if’. See how many you can spot.

Oh. Mr Bond.
Yes, the name is Bond. Jay Bond. Nice to meet you.
Ooo. You too. And you’re going to London next week?
Yes. It’s my first international assignment. I can’t wait.
Excellent.
And you have some cool equipment for me.
Well, yes. We have some useful things.
I love gadgets. Hey, look at this. X-ray glasses. If I put these on, I can see through walls.
Well…
Can I?
Oh go ahead. They’re actually just normal sunglasses.
Oh.
They could be very useful if it’s sunny in London.
Sunny in London?
Yes, sometimes it’s sunny at this time of year.
Well I guess then I won’t need this umbrella. Oh but it’s not an umbrella, is it? Let me guess. If I press this button a knife shoots out.
Well, no.
It fires a bullet then.
Err no. When you press the button, the umbrella opens.
It’s just an umbrella?
Yes, but it’s fully automatic.
Don’t you have any high-tech stuff? Like electronic gadgets.
Well, this one’s electrical.
Oh wow! It’s a radio transmitter! If I want to communicate with HQ, I’m going to use this.
Err. No, it’s not a transmitter.
Oh. Is it a bug for recording conversations?
No, it’s a plug adaptor.
Huh?
Yeah. The plugs are different in England. If you need to recharge your toothbrush, it’ll come in handy.
But I need spying stuff. Don’t you have anything dangerous?
Well we have a couple of things that come with safety warnings.
Oh great. Show them to me.
OK, there are these tablets.
Hey this is more like it. They’re poison, right? If I put these in people’s drinks, will they fall asleep? Or die?
No, no, no. They’re travel sickness tablets.
Huh?
It’s a seven-hour flight to England, but if you take two of these, you should be all right. Just follow the instructions on the label.
Oh this is no good. I’m an international spy. I need gadgets – dangerous stuff. What’s this? A water bottle!
Oh no, no, no.
Don’t tell me. It’s a long flight. If I drink this water, I won’t get dehydrated.
No. It’s explosive.
BANG!

How many sentences with ‘if’ did you hear? There were eight.
Did you spot them all? Let’s go though them.

We have some useful things.
I love gadgets. Hey, look at this. X-ray glasses. If I put these on, I can see through walls.
Well…

First of all Jay, what’s a gadget?
A gadget is a small tool or device.
And it’s cleverly designed.
And gadgets are useful. I thought the sunglasses could help me see through walls.
Yes, notice the modal verb here. Instead of ‘will’ Jay said ‘can’.
We often say ‘will’ in first conditionals, but it’s not the only verb we use.
We can use other verbs that have a future meaning. We saw another example.

Can I?
Oh go ahead. They’re actually just normal sunglasses.
Oh.
They could be very useful if it’s sunny in London.

So ‘could’ has a future meaning here.
It means you think it’s possible.
Exactly. First conditionals are all about future possibilities.
OK, let’s see some more.

Well I guess then I won’t need this umbrella. But it’s not an umbrella, is it? Let me guess. If I press the button a knife shoots out.
Well, no….
It fires a bullet then.
Err no. When you press the button, the umbrella opens.
It’s just an umbrella?

Now what about this example. Is it a first conditional?
Sort of, but many people call it a zero conditional because it’s a little different. In this sentence we can change the word ‘if’ for ‘when’ and the meaning stays the same.
So it’s not about a future possibility. It’s about a future certainty.
Yes. We saw another example with ‘when’. Every time you press the button, the umbrella opens. It always happens.
We’ve made another video about zero conditionals, haven’t we?
Yes, I’ll put the link here.
OK, let’s go back to the first conditional.

Oh wow! It’s a radio transmitter! If I want to communicate with HQ, I’m going to use this.
Err. No, it’s not a transmitter.
Oh. Is it a bug for recording conversations?
No, it’s a plug adaptor.
Huh?
Yeah. The plugs are different in England. If you need to recharge your toothbrush, it’ll come in handy.

What’s HQ?
HQ is an abbreviation for headquarters. But this is interesting. I didn’t say ‘will’ here. I said ‘going to’.
‘Will’ and ‘going to’ have very similar meanings and you could use either here. They both work.
So we can say ‘will’ instead of ‘going to’ here. Now, what about the if clause? Can we use ‘will’ there too?
No. We use a present tense in the if clause. Here’s another example. We can’t say ‘If you will recharge your toothbrush.’ That’s wrong.
What does ‘come in handy’ mean?
It means ‘to be useful.’ For example, ‘Don’t throw that old box away, it could come in handy.’
So remember the phrase ‘come in handy’. It could come in handy!
Exactly.
Let’s look at some more conditionals.

We have a couple of things that come with safety warnings.
Oh great. Show them to me.
OK, there are these tablets.
They’re poison, right? If I put them in people’s drinks, will they fall asleep? Or die?
No, no, no. They’re travel sickness tablets.
Huh?
It’s a seven-hour flight to England, but if you take two of these, you should be all right.

You used a different modal verb again. You didn’t say will. You said ‘should’.
Yes. When we have a good reason to believe something will happen, we can say ‘should’.
We know that travel sickness pills are often effective, but not always
Exactly. So I’m not certain that you’ll be fine, but I think it’s very possible. It’s a future possibility again.
So in first conditionals we can use the modal verbs will, can, could and should.
Yes, and we can also say may and might. If a modal verb has a future meaning, we can use it But the most common verb we use is ‘will’.
Now I asked a question with ‘will’ there.
Yes. ‘Will’ is a modal verb, so to form a question, we change the word order.
And what about negatives?
We saw an example of that too.

Don’t tell me. It’s a long flight, but if I drink this water I won’t get dehydrated.

So in the negative, we say ‘won’t.’ It’s the contraction of will and not.
Yes, and that’s it. Now you know how we form the first conditional, and you’ve seen lots of examples.
I have a question. What’s the difference between the first conditional and the second conditional?
That’s a great question because first and second conditionals are both about future possibilities.
First conditionals are about things we think could happen. They’re real possibilities. Second conditionals are more imaginary or unreal.
They’re for possibilities that we think won’t happen or that can’t happen. We’re making another video about them
So be sure to subscribe to our channel so you don’t miss it.
See you all next week everyone.
Bye-bye.
Bye!

Click here to learn about the zero conditional.
Click here to learn about ‘if’ and ‘in case’.

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