First Conditionals

What is the first conditional?

The first conditional, also known as type I if-clause, talks about future actions that can only occur providing that a certain condition is fulfilled. This condition is expressed in the if-clause.

If you study hard, you will pass the exam.

It is also known as the real conditional because it refers to realistic possibilities.

If it rains tomorrow, we will cancel the picnic.
there is a real chance that it will rain tomorrow, but it is not 100% guaranteed

When to use the first conditional

Typical contexts for the first conditional include:

  • warnings and threats
If you keep making noise, he will call the police.
  • future consequences
If the weather gets worse, we will go home.
  • negotiations
If you behave, I will buy you a toy.
  • superstitions
If you break that mirror, you will have seven years of bad luck.

How to form the first conditional

The if-clause contains a present tense, while the main clause contains a future tense (usually will/won’t + infinitive).

If the restaurant has a free table, we will eat there.

One or both clauses can be negative.

If you don’t eat now, you won’t have enough energy later. (two negative clauses)
If she doesn’t eat now, she will be hungry later. (one negative clause, one positive clause)

The main clause can contain a question.

If they get lost, will they be ok?

Commas in the first conditional

We can reverse the order of the clauses with no change in meaning.

If I have time later, I will help you. = I will help you if I have time later.

However, when the if-clause comes first, it is followed by a comma. If the order is reversed, we do not use a comma.

If I have the ingredients, I will make cookies. (comma after the if-clause)
I will make cookies if I have the ingredients. (no comma)


Remember! If and will never appear in the same clause together:

If you are late, the teacher will be angry.
not: If you will be late, …

Alternatives to if in the first conditional

We can use the following words and phrases to replace if in conditional clauses:

  • unless replaces if … not
I’ll take the job unless I get a better offer.
= I’ll take the job if I don’t get a better offer.
  • as long as and provided that replace only if in a conditional clause
I will lend you the money as long as you pay me back next week.
They will refund the cost provided that you have insurance.

Future Time Clauses

Future time clauses are similar to conditional clauses; although they refer to the future, the verb is in the present tense.

Common words that introduce future time clauses:

We will leave when the concert ends.
  • as soon as is similar to when, but it emphasises the immediacy of the action
I promise that I’ll call you as soon as I have more information.
  • before means that the action in the main clause must be completed prior to the action in the conditional clause
He’ll finish the project before the customer changes their mind.
  • after is the opposite of before; the action in the main clause happens second
I’ll be more relaxed after the party is over.
  • until means from now up to a specific time point in the future
I won’t do any more work until I get a pay rise.

First Conditional vs. Zero Conditional

The first conditional refers to specific future situations that will happen providing that a certain condition is fulfilled, while the zero conditional expresses general facts, truths and things that always happen.

If you leave ice cream in the sun, it melts. (zero conditional)
expressing a general truth applicable to all ice creams
If you leave your ice cream in the sun, it will melt. (first conditional)
talking about a specific ice cream