Most of my students get excited when I tell them we’re going to learn conditionals. I don’t really know how to explain that happy glimmer in their eyes when I say the word “conditionals.” Although many of my students don’t know what conditionals are, they’ve heard the word somewhere and they know it’s IMPORTANT. Aha, they seem to think, now she’s going to teach us the real stuff.
Sorry to disappoint you, but I wouldn’t say conditionals are that important. Otherwise I wouldn’t have written a hundred newsletters without mentioning even one conditional. But eventually, you will have to know them.
Type 1, Type 2 or Type Zero?
There are several types of conditionals. Most grammar books will teach you three kinds, or four, and give them numbers. Like conditional 1, conditional 2 and conditional 3. And some grammarians speak about conditional zero.
As I don’t believe in teaching too many technical issues in one go, we’re going to practice one type of conditional in this article, and that is the “automatic conditional.” This conditional will be referred to in grammar books as conditional 1 or 0. You can see where this number business can get confusing.
What Are Automatic Conditionals?
Automatic conditionals are the things that happen always or automatically or naturally when something else has happened.
Like in the example above: when I’m hungry I eat.
The condition is: I’m hungry. What happens when I’m hungry: I eat. This is the logical result.
All conditionals will have a condition or a situation that is needed for something else to happen. In other words, all conditionals have this form: if A happens, B happens.
More examples of automatic conditionals:
When my refrigerator is empty, I go to the supermarket.
When I put the car in gear, the car moves.
When you press the button, the light turns on.
If you tell her a joke, she smiles.
If you give the dog a bone, he spends the rest of the day gnawing on it.
If you order a beer, they serve you peanuts with it.
If the toner of your printer is finished, you need to replace it with a new one.
When the table is set, we can start our dinner.
Grammar Rules of Automatic Conditionals:
Grammatically, this conditional is very simple. You just need to use the present simple. If you’re not sure what present simple is, have a look here:
Both the condition, and the result are in the present simple.
You may also use other connectors instead of if and when. For instance after or before also work well:
After you press the button, the lift brings you to the floor you need.
After you clean the floor, it’s easy to slip on it.
Before you can enter the course, you need to register.
You can also use “as soon as:”
As soon as you say yes, we proceed with our project.
As soon as he hears a mosquito, he sits up straight in bed.
You May Change the Sentence Order
In the above examples, the order is: If/when + condition, result.
But your sentence can also be: Result, if/when + condition.
Here are some examples of this:
We can start eating, after you wash your hands.
I eat a snack when I’m hungry.
Now please finish the following conditionals yourself:
At the end, you will find some possible answers.
1 If you pull the lever, …
2 If you see a red light, …
3 When the credits appear on the screen, …
4 When the plants are thirsty, …
5 As soon as his plane lands, …
6 When I finish my day, …
7 After I eat breakfast, …
8 Before I sit down to relax, …
9 …, if the children behave well.
10 …, when the TV is on too loud.
Possible answers (your answers could be different):
1 If you pull the lever, the game show contestant falls through a trap door.
2 If you see a red light, you wait for it to turn green.
3 When the credits appear on the screen, it’s the end of the movie.
4 When the plants are thirsty, I water them.
5 As soon as his plane lands, he calls his wife.
6 When I finish my day, I relax by reading a book.
7 After I eat breakfast, I brush my teeth.
8 Before I sit down to relax, I check my email one more time.
9 Grandmother buys presents, if the children behave well.
10 Father gets grumpy when the TV is on too loud.
We’ll do other kinds of conditionals in following posts.