ZERO + FIRST Conditional | What’s the DIFFERENCE? | Accurate English Grammar

Lesson Overview

Lesson Summary 

Another lesson in our English conditionals series. Accurate English grammar and lots of practice with Zero and First Conditional sentences. I’ll help you to study the difference between them and practice using them accurately.

Video Transcript
Section 1
Hey I’m Emma from mmmEnglish! Welcome to a fascinating, interesting, grammar lesson. Another one in our series about conditional sentences.

If you’re learning English, you will definitely find this lesson helpful.

This type of grammar lesson might sound serious but learning to use conditionals effectively is going to help you to express yourself clearly and be really creative with English.

Conditionals are really common, native speakers use them all the time so if you start paying attention, you are definitely going to notice this sentence structure as you’re reading and even as you’re listening too, you’ll hear it more.

In this video, we’re going to focus on the zero conditional and the first conditional and we’ll talk about how they’re different but importantly when you should use one or the other because that’s a little confusing.

If you enjoy my lessons, make sure you subscribe to the channel and if you like this lesson in particular, give it a like and share it with your friends. It all helps me to create more and interesting content for you.

So let’s get into this lesson!

So I’m going to assume that you know most of the basics about conditional sentences.

  • If you study grammar, it gets easier.
  • If you practise every day, you will improve.
  • If I lived in an English-speaking country, I would be fluent.
  • If I had known how useful English was for my career, I would have paid more attention to it at school.

So each of these sentences has an if clause and a main clause but there are some differences between them especially with verb tenses and time references.

And all of this changes the meaning. One of them is a fact. Another is about the present but it’s an unreal present. Another is about an imaginary past.

Today we’re going to focus on these two. The zero and the first conditional.

Zero Conditional

The zero conditional is also called the factual or the real conditional because we use it to talk about truths and facts. Things that are real in the world.

We also use it to talk about habits and rules and to give instructions that are the result of something else happening first.

So in other words, if this happens then this is the result always okay? It’s a fact. It’s the truth. It’s just how it is. It’s what happens.

Let’s take a closer look at what it looks like because it’s really simple.

We use the present simple in both clauses. Now why does it say ‘if’ or ‘when’ can be used in the if clause? It’s a good question.

In the zero conditional, you can use either ‘if’ or ‘when’ in the if clause and the meaning with either word is pretty similar.

But we use ‘if’ when there is a chance that the action will happen but it might not happen as well okay? If it does happen then we know exactly what the result will be.

  • If I workout, I feel healthier.

So I workout and the result is pretty obvious. When I do workout, I feel healthier, I feel better about myself. It’s true.

But that doesn’t mean that I do it all the time right? I don’t always feel healthy especially if I don’t workout.

We use ‘when’ when we know for sure that that action is going to happen. We might not know exactly when it’s going to happen but we know that it will okay.

  • When I workout, I feel healthier.

So I’ve removed the possibility that it’s not going to happen. There’s no question about it. I will workout.

The specific time doesn’t matter, we just know that it’s going to happen in the future so it’s a subtle difference, very, very subtle.

And the same difference actually applies in the first conditional. We can use ‘if’ or ‘when’ as well in the first conditional.

But we’ll get to that.

Back to forming the zero conditional. Let’s look at a few examples to help us do that.

  • When the sun sets, it gets dark.
  • If you leave milk out, it spoils.
  • If the power goes out, we can’t watch TV.

So these are all facts and truths, right?

Now what about this sentence?

  • In winter it’s cold.

Is it a zero conditional sentence? It’s a fact. It has the present simple verb but it’s not a conditional sentence.

Can you tell me why? We don’t have two clauses. It is a fact but we don’t have the condition and the result clause. It’s just a present simple sentence.

But what about now?

  • If it’s cold, light the fire.

Now we’ve got a condition and the result and this is a good example of how the zero conditional can be used to give instructions. And I’m using the imperative form to do that. I’m telling you what to do, instructing you.

We also use the zero conditional to talk about rules.

  • Children can swim, if an adult is with them.

And we use it to talk about habits.

  • If it’s hot, I go to the beach.

This is something that I usually do. It’s a habit right? It happens often.

Can you see how in all of these examples that the two separate parts of the sentence are connected? We’re stating a fact or a truth in the main clause but it’s only possible on the condition that the if clause occurs.

First Conditional

So now we know that the zero conditional is the factual or the real conditional. What about the first conditional? It’s also called the possible conditional.

Now we’re not talking about facts anymore okay? Things that are absolutely one hundred percent true. Now we’re talking about possible future results. They might happen but they might not happen as well.

So can you guess when it might be useful to use the first conditional?

A time when you’re thinking about what’s possible in the future.

We can use it to talk about predictions, superstitions, plans, promises, offers, suggestions and warnings like there’s a lot of different ways that we can use the first conditional, right?

So all of these things talk about what is likely to happen in the future. A likely outcome.

So in the first conditional we’re not just using the present simple anymore, right? Because we’re talking about the future.

In the ‘if’ clause, we still use a present simple verb but in the main clause, we use the future tense. Will.

If this thing happens then this will likely happen. It will probably happen. We can’t be absolutely sure. You think so.

  • If you don’t eat now, you’ll be hungry later.
  • If she doesn’t call, I’ll be annoyed.

And just like in the zero conditional, we can still use ‘if’ or ‘when’ in the if clause and it depends on how sure we are that something is gonna happen.

And ‘when’ tells us that we’re very, very confident that the action in the if clause is going to happen and the result in the main clause is the most likely outcome.

  • When the sun sets, it will get cold.

Now what about this sentence?

  • If aliens arrive on earth, I will greet them!

Now I’ll give you a clue. There is something not quite right about this sentence, something about it sounds strange but it has a present simple verb and ‘will’ with the base verb following so it looks right but this isn’t a possible situation.

Nut this isn’t a possible situation. I could be unintentionally starting a debate about the existence of alien life right here but this is more of a hypothetical situation right?

So it would be better to use the second conditional to talk about this hypothetical situation.

Zero or First – What’s the difference?

So we talked about the zero conditional. We’ve talked about the first conditional but what’s the difference between them?

And why would you choose one over the other? Let’s take a look.

  • If you leave the milk out, it spoils.
  • If you leave the milk out, it will spoil.

Which one’s correct? It’s a trick question.

They’re both correct. They’re both possible.

But choosing to use the zero or the first conditional does change the meaning of the sentence a little.

So in the first sentence, we’re stating a general fact. It’s true, right? In general, in life, you know at any moment, when you leave milk out of the fridge it spoils.

So I might use the zero conditional to explain to a child that milk spoils when it’s not in the fridge, right?

The child didn’t know that fact beforehand. I’m telling them so that they know in the future.

When I use the first conditional sentence, I’m telling you about a possible outcome based on the current situation so it’s like advice or warning about a present situation. Something that is specific.

So imagine that you’ve just made a coffee. You left the milk on the bench and then you’ve gone off to the living room to watch some telly.

So I’m using the first conditional now to warn you or remind you about what might happen if you don’t put the milk in the fridge.

So I’m not telling you a general life lesson or a fact about life. You probably already know that milk spoils but I’m giving you a suggestion or a reminder that you should put it in the fridge. Now look at a few more comparisons.

  • When the sun sets, it gets cold.

Compare it to: When the sun sets, it will get cold.

So I’m using the zero conditional again to talk about a general fact, all right? All around the world in general, it gets colder when the sun sets.

But if you’re about to leave the house and you’re wearing just a t-shirt and I might be a little bit worried that you’re going to get cold, then I might use the first conditional sentence to remind you that, you know, in a few hours when the sun sets. It’s probably going to get cold and maybe you should bring a jacket.

Let’s try one more.

  • If she doesn’t call, I’m annoyed.
  • If she doesn’t call, I’ll be annoyed.

So in the first situation, the zero conditional is used because it’s something that happens a lot right?

She often doesn’t call and every time I’m annoyed. Every time she doesn’t call I’m annoyed.

It’s a really general statement about how I feel on many occasions.

In the first conditional example though, I’m talking about a specific phone call. Maybe I’m waiting for a colleague to call. I’m waiting for some information that I need to finish writing my report by the deadline and she promised to call me this afternoon.

So I’m not talking about her general calling habits. I don’t always get annoyed with her but I am talking about right now in this moment.

You know I’m worried that my colleague’s not going to call and I’m just expressing that it’s really annoying because I’m trying to finish my report.


Okay I hope that you’re feeling a bit more confident about using the zero and first conditional now because it’s time to practise.

So what I’m gonna do is I’ll give you a situation and you’re gonna have to write either a zero conditional sentence or a first conditional sentence to go with it, whichever one you think is the most appropriate one right.

I want you to write your sentences in the comments below. I’ll jump down and check them for you You can write any of your own sentences if you want me to check them but for now let’s start with this one.

You’re a teacher and you want to warn your students that they need to do their homework or tomorrow there’s going to be trouble. They’re going to get in trouble, right?

So should you use the zero or the first conditional?

Good. It should be the first conditional.

Now this is a warning about a specific situation, not a general truth because we’re talking about tomorrow okay so you could say something like:

  • If you don’t do your homework, you’ll be in trouble.

So I’ve got a few more situations just like this one where you’ll have to choose is it more appropriate to use the zero conditional or the first conditional?

So you’ll see that situation come up on screen, pause it if you need to so that you can write your sentences in the comments below. I’ll come down and check them for you. So let’s get started!

Situation 1: You’re talking to a child and you’re explaining a fact about what happens in spring.

Situation 2: You’re talking to a friend and you want to warn them to not be late to work tomorrow.

Situation 3: You’re a politician giving a speech and you want to promise change in the future if the people vote for you.

Situation 4: You’re writing a cookbook and you need to write a statement telling people that they can always change the ingredients if they have a food allergy.

Now if you’re still feeling confused about conditionals or maybe you’re feeling like ‘I’m just starting to get the hang of this’

That’s okay, you know, conditional tenses are a huge topic. They’re a huge part of English grammar which is why I’m creating dedicated lessons to all the different conditional structures.

If you found this lesson particularly helpful then please give it a like and share it. It really does help us at mmmEnglish.

Now if you come back next week, I will have a new English lesson for you but in the meantime, check out these ones here. I’ll see you in there!

Links mentioned in the video

Related videos

  • How to use English Articles: THE, AN, A (& NO Article)
    How to use English Articles: THE, AN, A (& NO Article)

  • Are you ABLE to..? 💪🏼 English Modal Verbs
    Are you ABLE to..? 💪🏼 English Modal Verbs

  • Subject-Verb Agreement  |  English Grammar Lesson  |  Fix Common Mistakes
    Subject-Verb Agreement | English Grammar Lesson | Fix Common Mistakes