Zero conditionals are a really useful and simple English grammar structure. We often use them to talk about scientific facts, but that’s not their only use.

In this video your see lots of zero conditional examples and learn how you can also use it to talk about habits and routines and even the past.

Zero conditionals have two clauses: the condition and result. We’ll show you how to form them, make negatives, punctuate them and reverse the order. You’ll learn about when and if in zero conditionals and cause effect relationships.

And just to check that all is clear we finish with a zero conditionals quiz.

Click here to see more grammar videos.

Click here to learn about if and in case.

The Zero Conditional in Action – English Grammar

If you breathe in helium, your voice goes funny.

Hello everyone. I’m Vicki.
And I’m Jay and this lesson’s about the zero conditional.
It’s a really useful and really simple structure. You’ll love it.
We often use it to talk about scientific facts.
Let’s see some examples.

If you heat water, it boils.
If ice gets warm, it melts.

So it’s really easy. The sentences have two parts, two clauses. One is the condition, and one is the result. The condition, the result.
We use the present simple in both clauses. It’s if with the present simple, and then the present simple again.
And we can reverse the order of the clauses. These sentences mean the same thing.
But notice the punctuation is different. If the sentence starts with ‘if’, we use a comma. The comma separates the condition and the result. But if ‘if’ comes in the middle of the sentence, the comma isn’t necessary.
That happens in other conditionals too. We can change the order of the two clauses.
Yeah, but you know what we need to look at next .
How to form negatives.
Let’s see.

What’s this ice cream doing here?
Oh, I might have some later.
If you don’t keep it in the freezer, it melts.
I forgot about it.
And the cream?
What about it?
If you put it in the fridge, it doesn’t go off.
Well, I’m going to have some now.

You heard two examples. If you don’t keep it in the freezer, it melts. If you put it in the fridge, it doesn’t go off.
So how do we form the negatives? It’s the present simple tense, so we use don’t and doesn’t.
To go off means to go bad so you can’t drink it.
In American English we’d say spoil. The milk spoiled.
We could say that in British English but it sounds old fashioned to me. We say go off.
Say spoil.
Now there’s something very special about zero conditionals. It’s something that only happens in this kind of conditional.
What’s that?
We can switch the word ‘if’ for ‘when’.

If you breathe in helium, your voice goes funny.
When you breathe in helium your voice goes funny.

So if, when, they’re both correct here and these sentences mean the same thing.
It’s a special feature of this conditional.
In other conditionals ‘if’ and ‘when’ mean different things, but in zero conditionals they mean the same.
It’s because we’re talking about things that always happen.
If you breathe in helium, the result is always the same.
So if you do it, when you do it, it doesn’t matter because the same thing happens every time.
With zero conditionals one thing always leads to another.

I’m back.
Oh. What did you buy?
Chocolate brownies. You’re going to love them
Wow. But if we eat too many brownies, we put on weight.
Oh. Do you want me to eat yours then?
Heck no!

There’s a cause effect relationship here. Brownies cause weight gain.
Yes, brownies are the cause and the effect is we put on weight.
It’s a sad fact of life.
And that’s why we use a zero conditional. We use them with facts and in situations where something always happens.
That means that we can also use them to talk about habits and routines.

I read the newspaper every day and if I see a good investment opportunity, I call my broker and tell her to buy.
I read the newspaper every day too, but I start at the back and read the sports pages.
When you snooze, you lose.

So here I used the zero conditional to describe a habit, a routine of mine.
And did you notice this one? ‘When you snooze you lose.’ It’s an idiom.
To snooze means to have a short light sleep.
‘When you snooze you lose’ means you have to act fast to get what you want. It’s another general truth. A fact of life.
OK, the next thing we need to talk about is the past.
Ah yes. We usually use zero conditionals to talk about the present, but we can also use them to talk about things that were true in the past.

When I went to school in England, we had to wear a uniform.
In my school we could wear whatever we wanted.
Mmm. When we forgot our tie, we were in trouble.
I didn’t wear a tie.
And if our skirt was too short, the teachers sent us home.
And I didn’t wear a skirt either.

So again, these sentences are about general truths, but they’re things that that were always true in the past.
The structure is the same as before, but instead of the present simple, we use the past tense. And again, we can switch ‘if’ for ‘when’, and ‘when’ for ‘if’.
So we’ve looked at the present and the past. Are we finished now?
No, there’s another very important question. How is the zero conditional different from the first conditional?
They are similar. Let’s look at some examples and see if you can work out the difference.

If you don’t put ice cream in the freezer, it melts.

Was I talking generally about ice cream here? Yes. All ice cream melts if it gets warm. So this is a general truth. Now let’s look at a different example?

If you don’t put this ice cream in the freezer, it’ll melt.

Was Vicki talking about ice cream in general here? No. This one’s different. She was talking about a particular carton of ice cream.
We use the zero conditional to talk about what happens in general, and the first conditional to talk about a particular situation.
So the zero conditional is about what always happens, and the first conditional is about what happens in a particular case.
In many situations we might use a zero or first conditional, but there’s a difference in meaning. General – particular.
We’re making another video about the first conditional. So make sure you subscribe to our channel so you don’t miss it.
I think we should have a review now. Let’s see what you can remember.
We use zero conditionals to talk about things that are always true. We use them when one action always follows another.
In zero conditionals ‘if’ means the same as ‘when’. We can say ‘if’ or ‘when’ and the meaning doesn’t change.
The word ‘if’ comes at the start or in the middle of a sentence. Just remember to use a comma if you start the sentence with ‘if’.
We use zero conditionals to talk about what’s true in all situations. They’re general truths, We don’t use them if we’re thinking of specific or particular situations.
We can use zero conditionals to talk about routines and habits in the present and the past.
They just have to be things that always happen in the present or always happened in the past.
And that’s it! Now you know how we use zero conditionals in English.
If you’ve enjoyed this video, please share it with a friend.
And see you next week everyone. Bye.



12 thoughts on “The Zero Conditional in Action – English Grammar”

  1. I would really appreciate it if you could help me with this.
    Is it possible to use would in the result phrase when we use the zero conditional to talk about the past?
    for example: If it rained , my mother would drive me to school.
    instead of: If it rained , my mother drove me to school.

    1. Hi Arabo. Great question. Yes it is! Both of your example sentences are correct, but using ‘would’ is very appropriate here because it suggests it was habitual.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Social Media