How to use if and when

How to Use "IF"

What if aliens invaded earth?
What if I woke up with 3 arms?


Conditionals can be fun, but also useful for everyday language.


Conditionals talk about a possible result of an action. Today we’ll be looking at an overview of the different kinds of conditionals there are and how to use them. There are four types of conditional:

The Zero Conditional

Talks about situations that are always true.


Present simple + Present simple

  • If you eat dirt, you get sick. (fact)

  • If you boil ice, it melts.

  • If you’re cold, wear a coat. (suggestion)

  • Plants die if they don’t get enough water. (it doesn’t matter what order the clauses come in)

The First Conditional

Talks about imaginary situations that could happen

Present simple + future with will

  • If you work really hard, you will pass the exam.

  • I will be happy if you visit me more often.

  • If the weather is bad, I won’t go for a run today. (will + not = won’t)

  • If we go to that party, we will have a good time.​

The Second Conditional

Talks about imaginary situations that are unlikely to happen 
Past tense here isn’t actually past tense. It talks about an unlikely future.

Past simple + would / could + base verb

  • If I studied harder, I could pass the test. (even though past tense is used, it’s talking about a test in the future)

  • If she spoke to me, I would feel happier.

  • I would be scared if aliens invaded.

  • If I became rich, I would buy an expensive plane.​

The Third Conditional

Talks about imaginary situations that will definitely not happen 

Past perfect + would / could / might + have + past participle

  • If I had studied harder, I might have passed the test. (the test is in the past so there’s no chance this will happen)

  • If she had come sooner, we could have given her more food.

  • There might not have been any floods if the rain had stopped earlier.

  • If we had stayed in school, we would have learnt more.

Bonus Tips

  • When talking, don’t focus too much on the rules because you will trip over your words. Just focus on getting your point across and your grammar will improve slowly over time.
  • Native speakers often make mistakes with conditionals, but I always say you have to learn the rules before you can break them.

Your Tasks

  1. Finish the sentence in Zero Conditional: When I travel ______________

  2. Finish the sentence in First Conditional: If it is sunny on the weekend _____________

  3. Answer the question in Second Conditional: If you found $1 million, what would you do?

  4. Finish the sentence in Third Conditional: If I had studied harder in school ___________

  5. What regrets do you have in the past? (use the 3rd Conditional)

  6. Answer the question, and tell me what conditional this is: If it is sunny tomorrow, what will you do?

  7. Answer the question, and tell me what conditional this is: If you were me, what would you do?

  8. Answer the question, and tell me what conditional this is: If you were a girl/boy, what would you do?

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8 thoughts on “#65 How to use IF and WHEN Like a Native (Conditionals)”

  1. Francesco Grossi

    Hello Michael

    I love your teaching as well as your wisdom.
    I am 59 and I love shadowing your podcast which is possible thanks to your slow pace.
    About this episode am I wrong or the second conditional form, first clause, should use “were” also for the third person?
    “if he/she were” instead of “was”

    Just because I seem to remember so.
    Thank you
    If someone already wrote about it, please do ignore my comment.

    Thank you very much for what you have done.

    1. Hi Francesco, thanks so much for listening and commenting. Great to have you as part of the community.

      I also get confused with the was/were difference, simply because many native speakers don’t care and mix them up all the time. But of course, I’d suggest learning the rules first before breaking them.

      Were – Used for things that aren’t true
      – If I were the president, I would be a very good leader.
      – If I were rich, I’d buy you a car.

      Was – Used for things that could have happened
      – If I was saying something offensive, I’m sorry.
      – If she was angry, I’m glad I left when I did.

      I hope that makes sense

  2. Hello Mr.Lavers

    there are mixed conditionals I knew it but it still hard for me.

    I hope one day you will explain it in a podcast because your way of explaining very understandable

    1. Mixed conditionals are very confusing. I actually was thinking about doing an episode about this this morning! I will either do it on YouTube or the podcast, but I’ll definitely keep it in mind for April. Thanks for the request

  3. Ernesto lipouci

    Hi, Michael. i have to honestly admit that i haven’t listen to your podcasts for a long time as many unpleasant things happened. but it’s nice to rehear your voice today. your works give me plenty of energy and motivation to improve myself. thank you.

  4. When I travel, I always feel excited and anticipative.
    If it is sunny on the weekend, I will probably travel somewhere.
    3. I would move to/buy a new house.
    4I would have learned more
    6 I will use my sunglasses in the car. 1st conditional

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