The Zero Conditional

The zero conditional is used to talk about things that are generally or normally true as long as the condition is met.

For example, when we talk about our daily routine, we say things like, “I get up at 6am and then I go to work at eight.” But, you might also want to talk about what you do when you don’t work, or if you day off:

  • When I don’t work, I spend time with my family.
  • I get up later when I work from home.

As you can see, the ‘If / When’ clause is formed by using the present simple, and the main clause is formed by the present simple also.

The order of the clauses of the following sentences can be reversed.

Zero Conditional Form

Conditional Clause Main Clause
When I exercise, I feel better.
If I have time, I like to read.

 

Main Clause Conditional Clause
I feel better when I exercise.
I like to read if I have time.

The zero conditional is used a lot for scientific facts:

  • If you heat water, it boils.
  • Ice cream melts when you leave it in the sun.

Both ‘if’ and ‘when’ can be used, often without a change in meaning. When talking about what people normally do, ‘if’ suggests that the thing happens less often than ‘when.’

  • If I have a day off, I like to go to the beach (I have a day off less frequently).
  • When I have a day off, I like going to the beach (I have a day off more frequently).

We can use different forms of the present tense in the conditional clause. Also, notice the use of the imperative in the main clause.

  • When you go to that restaurant, order their special salad, it’s incredible.
  • If you go to New York, make sure you go to Brooklyn.
  • When I have been to the gym, I always take a shower afterwards.

The first example uses ‘when’ which says that the person is definitely going to that restaurant. The second example uses ‘if’ which suggests that the person may or may not go.

The zero conditional is also used to refer to the past.

  • When I lived in Spain, I always ate in traditional restaurants.
  • I had lots of energy when I ate healthily as a child.
  • When I went to my friends house, his mum made the best dinners for all of us.

Zero Conditional Examples

Let’s look at the zero conditional used in context in the conversation below:

 

Dialogue

Marco: Where do you work?

Pauline: I work at a travel company in London, so I travel a lot.

Marco: Where do you normally travel to? And, how often do you travel?

Pauline: Well, when I have an assignment to research a country, I go there for a month or two. If there aren’t any new assignments, I stay in London.

Marco: Do you miss London when you travel?

Pauline: I miss my family and friends but I love traveling. I sometimes can take my husband with me when I go somewhere not too far away. I always make sure that I have a good internet connection when I stay in different places, so that I can easily keep in contact with everyone.

Marco: When you return from traveling, does it take you a while to get used to things again?

Pauline: I’ve been doing this job for a long time now, so when I return, I usually get straight back into things.

Zero Conditional Exercises

Answer the following questions to test your knowledge of the zero conditional:

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Where to Next?

First Conditional
Second Conditional
Third Conditional
Conditional Sentences (Introduction)