What Is a Conditional?

In the English language, a conditional is a sentence that expresses a condition. In such a sentence, one half expresses something which depends on the other half.

condition is something that must happen before something else can happen.

The conditional part of the sentence commonly begins with words and phrases such as:

  • if
  • when
  • unless
  • even if
  • only if
  • in case


  • You will be allowed to watch television only if you finish your homework by 9:00.
  • I will be at the meeting tomorrow unless my son is still sick.
  • When the sun sets, the kids will return home.
  • If you want to be paid for a full day, you have to arrive at work on time.
  • Take your cell phone with you in case you need to call me.

Now let’s look at a common error when using conditionals in modern American English.

First Conditional (Real)

We call the first conditional the real conditional because it is likely to happen in the future.


If  + Simple Present, + Will/Won’t


Will/Won’t + If + Simple Present

(Won’t = Will + Not)
* “If” can be replaced with phrases such as:

  • even if
  • only if
  • in case
  • unless

We use this conditional when referring to conditions that are possible and very likely to happen in the future.


The most common mistake is to put will in the conditional part of the sentence. The conditional part must remain in the simple present tense.

Incorrect: Sam won’t go to the dance unless you will ask him.
Correct: Sam won’t go to the dance unless you ask him.

Incorrect: In case you will need my help, I will be in my classroom until 4:00.
Correct: In case you need my help, I will be in my classroom until 4:00.

Incorrect: Sammy will be allowed to play only if he will share his toys.
Correct: Sammy will be allowed to play only if he shares his toys.

Incorrect: If you will eat your vegetables, you can play outside.
Correct: If you eat your vegetables, you can play outside.


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