Zero Conditionals

What is the zero conditional?

Zero conditional sentences express things that always happen providing a certain condition is met. This condition is expressed in the if-clause.

Example:
If you leave ice cream in the sun, it melts.
You get ice if you freeze water.

Both clauses contain the present tense.

When to use the zero conditional

We use the zero conditional to talk about:

  • facts
Example:
If you heat water, it boils.
  • habits
Example:
If it is warm, I go to the beach.
  • rules
Example:
Children can ride the rollercoaster if they are over 140cm tall.

How to form the zero conditional

The zero conditional is the easiest conditional structure; we use the present tense in both the if-clause and the main clause.

Example:
If you heat water, it boils.

We can reverse the order of the clauses without any change in meaning.

Example:
If you take the bus, you need a ticket. = You need a ticket if you take the bus.

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

Examples:
If I have time, I go to the gym after work. (comma after if-clause)
I go to the gym after work if I have time. (no comma)

If, when and whenever

Zero conditional if-sentences express almost the same meaning as time clauses with when and whenever. When emphasises the certainty of an action.

Example:
Harry feels better if he exercises. = Harry feels better when he exercises.

Whenever means at any time or every time when.

Example:
Whenever it is warm, I go to the beach.

Learn more about the difference between when and if.