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The Zero Conditional

The zero conditional is the most basic type of ‘if’ sentence in English but is really important and useful to know. What is it and when is it used? Read on to find out!

Conditionals – a brief introduction

We use conditional sentences to describe possible situations that have a condition, referred to using ‘if’. If one thing happens, another action can follow. For example,

If students study hard, they learn quickly.

The ‘if’ clause of this sentence may or may not happen. The second part is certain.

In English, there are four types of conditional sentence – zero, first, second and third. And there are also mixed conditionals.

It’s a good idea to learn them gradually, as the Wall Street English students do, so you become confident in using each conditional one by one.

So let’s start by looking at the zero conditional.

When do we use the Zero Conditional?

The zero conditional is used to express:

  • general habits
  • permanent truths/facts

For example,

If I’m tired, I go to bed early. (This is what I usually do.)

If you heat water to 100°C, it boils. (This is a scientific fact.)

In both these examples I’m talking about a general time, not now or the future.

How do we create the Zero Conditional?

The structure of the zero conditional is:

If + present simple, present simple.

If you put food into the freezer, it freezes.

It’s also possible to use the same structure but inverting the two clauses:

Present simple if + present simple.

Food freezes if you put it into the freezer.

Here are some more examples:

If I have a lot of work, I stay in the office until late.

If we have time, we go to the park for a walk.

Teachers get angry if students don’t do their homework.

If it’s very cold during the night, there’s ice on cars.

You put on weight if you eat too much.

If I get a headache, I take a painkiller.

They have a drink together if they win a match.

If you take ice out of the freezer, it melts.

If you don’t water a flower, it dies.

It’s useful to know that you can replace ‘if’ in the above sentences with ‘when’ in a situation in which you’re certain the action happens. For example,

When I have a lot of work, I stay in the office until late.

This situation happens.

Remember that the zero conditional can’t be used to refer to a particular time, like the future or the past. It’s only used for general facts.

The zero conditional is simple and easy to use. Are you ready to practice?

More exercises
Simple Present and Present Progressive

The first verb tenses an English student learns are the present simple and the present continuous. Here is a guide on how to create and use both tenses.

What is the present participle used for?

Have you heard people talk about the present participle and not been sure what they meant? Find out more here.