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Expressing a a condition or implying a condition of dependency through words such as "if" and "then". The conditional shows that one or more requirements must be met, be made, or granted on certain terms, for the second action (in the sentence) to take place.

Explanation of the conditional

Although a number of languages have entire verb tenses to show the tentative nature of the conditional statement, in English it is generally shown by a noun within a clause of a sentence. For example, in the sentence "The principal offered the job to Maria, dependent on his receipt of her state teaching license", Maria only has the job if this license is received. The principal has offered his conditional acceptance in the opening clause of the sentence. Learning about types of sentences and clauses in important in order to write with the conditional. To learn about complex and compound sentences, follow this link.

Using the conditional

To use the conditional, be sure to express the tentative nature of one event or action. Can you find the conditional in each of the next four sentences?

  • "If the sun is shining at noon, we will go to the beach for a swim."
  • "I will text you only if I make it back in to town in time for the show."
  • "If he meets the education and health requirements, the young man will take the police officer's exam next."
  • "Once I save five thousand dollars, the banker will take my mortgage application more seriously."

Note that in all of these examples, one action (e.g. going for a swim) depends on another action.  There will be no swim (in this example), unless the sun shines. The conditional is what links the idea that one action depends on another, and is not limited to one verb tense in English. That is the meaning of the conditional in English.


Although some languages express the conditional through a change in verb tense, using the conditional to convey doubt, possible situations, and tentative acceptance can be accomplished in English. Is is done through the use of conjunctions (such as "if", "only", and "then"), nouns and an understanding of clauses as well as sentence structure.


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