Using conditional sentences will make your language more complex and sophisticated.
This lesson takes you through the different types of conditional sentences, from zero right through to third conditional.
My YouTube videos also take you step by step through everything you need to know, and give you plenty of examples that you can use in your Writing (and Speaking!) Test.
Watch Part 1 of my 3-part ‘Conditionals Made Easier’ series below:
IELTS conditionals: an overview
There is a simple logic to conditionals and once you see it, you’ll never forget it.
Conditionals depend on how REAL or POSSIBLE the situation is in the eyes of the speaker.
Look at these examples from the video.
As you progress further and further from possibility (from zero to third), the tenses go BACK – from Present, to Past, to Past Perfect.
Use ZERO Conditional when
- something is always true (If I have money, I spend it)
- as commands (If you have money, spend it!)
You can use it to talk about your habits in Speaking Part 1.
e.g. How do you usually get to school/work?
- I usually walk, but if it’s raining I get the bus.
Here are some well-known expressions my students sent me on Instagram using Zero Conditional:
1) If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.
2) If you can’t beat them, join them.
3) If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
4) Be good. If you can’t be good, be careful.
5) If you want something done properly, do it yourself.
6) If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.
7) If you can dream it, you can do it (Walt Disney)
8) If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.
9) If life gives you lemons, make tequila.
10) If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
Use First Conditional
- when you think the event is possible (If I have time, I’ll help you).
- to make threats, promises and warnings (If you do that again, I’ll call the police)
First Conditional is perfect for the “final thought” in IELTS Writing Task 2.
If we/ parents/ the government/ those responsible…
…continue to (…)
…are unable to find an alternative to (…)
…do not limit/reduce (…)
…do not invest more time and money in (…)
…there will be dire consequences for (the planet).
…the impact on (the planet) will be disastrous.
…it will have an adverse impact in the long-term.
…many more (people) will suffer as a result.
Alternatives to 'if' in conditionals
The most common word used in conditionals is “if”, but there are other options you can use to add variety and range.
I’ll lend you some money…
…as/so long as you promise to pay me back.
…provided that you promise to pay me back.
…on condition that you promise to pay me back.
I won’t lend you any money…
…*unless* you promise to pay me back (see next section)
‘Unless’ is difficult. It just means ‘if not’ and can be used with all the conditionals.
Here are some memorable examples my students posted on Instagram:
- Don’t say you love me unless you mean it.
- Dreams don’t work unless you do.
- Don’t give advice unless someone asks for it.
- Nobody wants to hear about your workout unless you fell off the treadmill.
- Always give 100% unless you’re giving blood.
- ‘Unless someone like you cares an awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.’ (Dr Seuss The Lorax)
- I don’t argue unless I’m right.
- I don’t use my mobile phone unless it’s important.
- I don’t eat breakfast unless I’m very hungry.
- I won’t be late unless there’s a traffic jam.
- I wouldn’t take the road through Moria unless I had no choice.
- I wouldn’t lend my car to anyone unless I had total faith in them.
Second Conditionals are a great way of making suggestions and recommendations in IELTS Writing Task 2.
Watch Part 2 of my Conditionals Made Easier series on YouTube for explanations and useful examples (see below).
Writing Task 2 Conclusions
We saw how First Conditionals can be used to add a ‘final thought’ about possible consequences.
Second Conditional can also be used in this way.
If we/parents/the government/those responsible…
…did more to (combat/tackle climate change)
…could find an alternative to (fossil fuels)
…limited/reduced (the number of cars on the road)
…invested more time and money in (alternative fuels)
…they would be able to reduce (habitat loss)
…(global warming) might be reversed.
…it would bring a number of advantages.
…many more (species) could be saved.
WISH + Past Tense
‘Wish‘ follows the same rules as the Second Condtionals, because it expresses imaginary situations.
(Watch the video for explanations)
- I can’t go to the party.
I wish I could go to the party.
- I don’t have much money.
I wish I had more money.
- I’m not very ambitious.
I wish I was/were more ambitious.
- I can’t speak French.
I wish I could speak French.
NB ‘Wish’ can be replaced with ‘If only‘ (stronger regret).
Third Conditional + wish/If only
Use THIRD Conditional to talk about imaginary situations in the PAST.
I didn’t study. I didn’t pass.
If I had studied, I would have passed.
(If + Past Perfect + would + have + 3rd form)
It is often used to express REGRET about the Past.
When you use ‘WISH’ to express regret about the Past, you use Past Perfect, the same as the Third Conditional.
Here are some common examples of regrets:
- I wish I had studied a different subject.
(If I had studied computing, I would have got a better job).
- I wish I had gone to bed earlier last night.
- I wish I hadn’t skipped breakfast this morning.
- I wish I hadn’t spent so much money yesterday.
- If only they’d taught us how to fix cars at school.
- If only I’d bought the jacket I saw last week.
These are not exactly conditionals, but the meaning is similar.
‘The closer you get, the slower I go.’
= If you get closer, I will drive slower.
‘The bigger the better.’
= If something is bigger, it is better.
‘The more the merrier.’
= If more people come to the party, it will be merrier!
In real life, conditionals get mixed up all the time, because each part of the sentence refers to a different time.
If I had studied computing (PAST), I would be rich (PRESENT).
Don’t worry too much about these. You rarely need to use them.
This is a very advanced and quite formal way of expressing conditionals (but not too difficult!).
If the government invested more, they would save money.
Were the government to invest more, they would save money.
If the government had invested more, they would have saved money.
Had the government invested more, they would have saved money.
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