The First Conditional
The first conditional is used to talk about real present or future possibilities. Whereas the second and third conditional are concerned with imaginary situations, the first conditional is used for real situations.
A good example of this is from the film Taken with Liam Neeson. Let’s have a look at scene that uses the first conditional. His daughter has just been kidnapped and he starts speaking to the kidnapper:
“I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.”
It is formed by using the present simple and either ‘will’ or ‘going to.’ ‘Will’ is the one that is used the most, and is usually tested for on exams.
The order of the clauses of these two sentences can be reversed. Let’s now look at how the first conditional is formed along with some examples.
|Conditional Clause||Main Clause|
|If it rains on Saturday,||we won’t have a barbeque.|
|If I get that job,||we’ll go on vacation next year.|
|Main Clause||Conditional Clause|
|We won’t have a barbeque||if it rains on Saturday.|
|We’ll go on vacation next year||if I get that job.|
As well as the present simple, other present forms can be used, such as the present perfect:
- If we haven’t finished this report by tomorrow, our boss will be really angry.
Modal verbs can he used instead of ‘will’ in the first conditional; these include ‘can, ‘have to,’ and ‘should.’
- You can play outside when you finish your homework.
- We should go for a hike if it’s nice on Saturday.
- When you finish your project, we have to have a party to celebrate.
‘If’ is used when we are unsure if something will happen or not, while ‘when’ is used when we are waiting for the clause to happen.
- If you win the game, will you celebrate?
- When you finish your dinner, are you going to call your parents?
In the first sentence, it is unsure whether the person will win the game or not. In the second sentence, we are simply waiting for the person to finish his/her dinner.
We can also use going to in the first conditional. The difference between will and going to is the same as in other situations: ‘Will’ is used when we decide something in the moment while ‘going to’ is used when we have something planned.
- If it rains this Saturday, we’re going to cook inside instead (the decision had already been made).
- Well, if it rains on Saturday, we’ll BBQ inside I think (that decision was made during the conversation.)
Read the following conversation and take note of when the first conditional is used.
Sarah: I’m taking the IELTS exam next week.
Helen: What will you do if you pass?
Sarah: I’m going to move to the USA.
Helen: That will be fantastic! And what will you do if you don’t pass?
Sarah: I’ll stay here and take the test again in a few months.
Helen: I have some news too, I think Mark is going to propose this weekend.
Sarah: Wow! What will you say if he does?
Helen: I’ll definitely say yes!
Sarah: If Simon proposes soon, I might say no.
Helen: You should definitely say ‘yes’ if he asks!