First Conditional If-Clauses in English Grammar
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.
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
I have two job offers and I don’t know which one to accept.
If I take the job at the investment bank, I will make lots of money.
But I won’t have much free time if I work there.
If I take the job at the community centre, I won’t earn very much.
But I will make a difference if I work with the local community.
If I don’t decide soon, they will take back their offers!
When to use first conditional if-clauses
Typical contexts for type I if-clauses include:
- future consequences
- If I take the job at the investment bank, I will make a lot of money.
- warnings and threats
- If I don’t decide soon, they will take back their offers.
- If you provide more vacation days, I will accept the job.
- If you break that mirror, you will have seven years of bad luck.
How to form the first conditional
- If I take the job at the community centre, I will have more free time.
- If you have any questions, please get in touch.
One or both clauses can be negative.
- If they don’t offer paid vacation time, I won’t take the job. (two negative clauses)
- If I take the job at the investment bank, I won’t have much free time. (one negative clause, one positive clause)
The main clause can contain a question.
- If I say no to the job, will I find another one?
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 work with the community, I will make a difference. (comma after the if-clause)
- I will make a difference if I work with the community. (no comma)
Remember! If and will never appear in the same clause together:
- If you are late, the teacher will be angry.
If you will be late, …
Alternatives to if in the first conditional
We can use the conjunctions unless, as long as and provided that to replace if in conditional clauses:
- I’ll take the job unless I get a better offer.
- = I’ll take the job if I don’t get a better offer.
Read more about conditional conjunctions in English grammar.
If vs. when
If and when have different meanings when we speak about the future.
- use if in conditional sentences to talk about an action or event in the future that may happen
- If we see the Northern Lights, I will take lots of photos.
- it’s not guaranteed that we will see the Northern Lights
- use when in future time clauses to express a future action or event that is sure to happen
- We will leave when the concert ends.
- the concert cannot go on forever, therefore the ending is guaranteed
Learn more about the difference between when and if.
First Conditional vs. Zero Conditional
First conditional if-clauses refer to specific future situations that will happen providing that a certain condition is fulfilled, while zero conditional if-clauses express 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