Architecture English Lessons: Five Types of Conditionals and How to Use Them as an Architect


English Coach for Architects

Introduction

How do conditionals work?

1. The Zero Conditional

2. The First Conditional

3. The Second Conditional

Making polite requests

Using the verb ‘be’

4. The Third Conditional

5. Mixed conditionals

How to tell the difference between the different types of conditionals

How to learn conditionals?



Introduction


As an architect, landscape architect or designer, you’ll likely discuss various design possibilities with your clients and colleagues.


To do so effectively, you’ll need to use a conditional sentence.


These types of sentences are used to talk about real and imaginary situations in the past, present or future and explain how one scenario would affect another.


For example, “If I make changes to the drawing, it will automatically update.”


If you’ve learned English to a high intermediate or advanced level, you would have already encountered conditionals. (This sentence is an example of one!)

However, they always seem to be the aspect of grammar that send my clients into a spin.

I’ve created this short guide to help you get a better understanding of how to use them without feeling overwhelmed with all the details and grammatical rules. I’ll simplify the jargon as much as I can, give you clear examples and help you use them more naturally in a real-life work context.

How do conditionals work?

There are four main types of conditionals (plus an extra known as a ‘mixed conditional’.

  • Zero conditional

  • First conditional

  • Second conditional

  • Third conditional

  • Mixed conditional

They help us describe what happens, what could happen, what we wish would happen or what might have happened as the result of something else.

These sentences are split into two parts, known as clauses and all use the conjunction ‘if’. One part is known as the ‘if clause’ and the other is known as the ‘result clause’.


‘If clause’ ‘result clause’

↓ ↓

[If we had more room in the budget], [we could go for a more expensive carpet].


Here are a few examples that I've heard recently:

  • “If you make changes to the drawing, it will automatically update”. (General)

  • “If it's not raining tomorrow, I will meet the builder on site”. (Future event)

  • “If we had more room in the budget, we could go for a more expensive carpet.” (Hypothetical situation)

  • “If I had sent the drawings on time, we wouldn't have this problem”. (Hypothetical outcome)

You can also switch the order of the clauses. For example, “We wouldn't have this problem if I had sent the drawings on time.

Or sometimes use the word ‘when’ instead of ‘if’ in some cases. I’ll give you more details on this below.

The key to understanding the differences between the types of conditionals is to look at the verbs in each part of the sentence (the clause).

In the following sections, I’ll explain more about each of these clauses and help you learn how to use them at work.

1. The Zero Conditional

When you want to show that one action is the result of another (or want to express habit, fact or truth) in English, you need to use the ‘zero conditional’.


It’s the easiest conditional to use as both verbs are in the simple present tense.


👉 Here are some examples…


  • “If I drink too much coffee, I can’t sleep”

  • “If I get sick, I go to the doctor”

  • “If it rains, the grass gets wet”

  • “If you sandblast the top layer of concrete, the aggregate is exposed.”


👉 You can also substitute the word ‘if’ for ‘when’...


  • “When I drink too much coffee, I can’t sleep”

  • “When I get sick, I go to the doctor”

  • “When it rains, the grass gets wet”

  • “When you sandblast the top layer of concrete, the aggregate is exposed”


(When you use the word ‘when’, you’re suggesting that the outcome is more likely to happen).



👉 ….Or switch the parts of the sentence around (clauses)


  • “I can’t sleep when/if I drink too much coffee, ”

  • “I go to the doctor when/if I get sick, ”

  • “The grass gets wet when/if it rains”


Listen to the song “Rain” by the Beatles to hear this used in context.



Quick grammar point [if/when] + present tense, present tense OR present tense, present tense + [if/when]


2. The First Conditional

If you want to talk about something that is quite likely to happen because of something you’re doing now, you’ll need to use the first conditional.

Similar to the zero conditional, the ‘if’ part of the sentence (clause) will be in the present tense. However, the other part (clause) will be in the future simple.


👉 Here are some examples…


  • “If I drink too much coffee, I will not sleep

  • “If I get sick, I will go to the doctor”

  • “If it rains, the grass will get wet”



👉 You can also substitute the word ‘if’ for ‘when’...


  • “When I drink too much coffee, I will not sleep

  • “When I get sick, I will go to the doctor”

  • “When it rains, the grass will get wet”


(When you use the word ‘when’, you’re suggesting that the outcome is more likely to happen).



👉 ….Or switch the parts of the sentence around (clauses)


  • “I will not sleep if/when I drink too much coffee,”

  • “I will go to the doctor if/when I get sick,”

  • “The grass will get wet if/when it rains”



Listen to the 80s song “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” by Simply Red to hear this used in context.



Quick grammar point [if/when] + present tense, will + infinitive OR will + infinitive + [if/when] present tense

👉 You can also use modal verbs instead of ‘will’…


Although I’ve given you example sentences that use ‘will +infinitive’ because these are the most common, you can also use modal verbs such as ‘may’, ‘might’, ‘can’, ‘could’ and ‘should’.

(Bear in mind that if you do this, you’ll change the meaning of the sentence.)


  • “If the client agrees, we could try another option.”

  • “If we change the design now, they might not be very happy.”

  • “If you search on the server, you can find all the project files.”

  • “If I see the engineer tomorrow, I may try to explain it to her.”

  • “If they don't like the first option, they should try and find another solution.”


Quick grammar point [if/when] + present tense, modal verb + infinitive OR modal verb + infinitive + [if/when] present tense


3. The Second Conditional

When we want to talk about a dream, things in the future that are unlikely to be true or even something in the present that is impossible or unlikely, we use the second conditional.


To use it, the ‘if’ part of the sentence (clause) needs to be in the simple past and the other part (clause) should contain the word ‘would/wouldn’t’ then the verb in the infinitive.


👉 Here are some examples…


  • “If I lived in a big city, I wouldn’t need a car”

  • “If I won the lottery, I would design and build my own house”

  • “If I met Bjarke Ingels, I’d ask him what he’s inspired by”


Notice here that advanced or fluent speakers often contract the personal pronoun (I/You/He/She/It/We/They) with the ‘would’ or ‘wouldn’t’. For example, “I’d”, “You’d”, ‘He’d”, and so on.


👉 ….As before, we can usually switch the parts of the sentence around (clauses)


  • “I wouldn’t need a car if I lived in a big city.”

  • “I would design and build my own house if I won the lottery.”

  • “I’d live in the Azores if I could live anywhere in the world.”


Notice that neither of us is likely to win the lottery, meet someone famous or be able to live anywhere in the world. We’re talking about a hypothetical or imaginary situation and how we would act consequently.

Using the second conditional is particularly important when it comes to exploring possibilities with clients, colleagues or consultants, especially when collaborating on projects.

Listen to the 90s song “One of Us” by Joan Osbourne to hear this used in context.


Making polite requests

You can also use the second conditional if you want to make a very polite request.


👉 Here are some examples…

  • Would it be okay, if we tried something different?”

  • Would you mind if we pushed out the meeting to tomorrow?”

  • Would you mind if I borrowed your computer for a minute?”




Quick grammar point [if/when] + past simple, would/wouldn’t + infinitive OR would/wouldn’t + infinitive + [if/when] past simple



Using the verb ‘be’

There’s one exception when it comes to using the verb ‘to be’ in the second conditional.


When we use the personal pronouns ‘I’, ‘he’, ‘she’ and ‘it’, the past form is always ‘were’ and not ‘was’. This is because we’re using the past subjunctive in this part of the sentence.


👉 For example…


  • “If this were your house/garden/design, how would you do it differently?”

  • “If he were my boss, I’d look for another job.”

  • “If I were rich, I’d spend all my time travelling.”



You might notice that some native speakers don’t follow this rule, but the above is the grammatically correct version.

4. The Third Conditional

Do you want to talk about a situation that cannot exist such as an action or event in the past? Or a missed opportunity? If so, you’ll need the third conditional.


When it comes to grammar, this type of sentence is a bit more complex.


You’ll need to use the past perfect subjunctive with the part of the sentence (the clause) that contains the ‘if’. Then follow it with ‘would have’ and the past participle in the other.

This might sound complicated, so let me explain what I mean with some examples.

👉 Here are some examples…


  • “If I hadn’t drunk so much coffee, I would have felt better.”

  • “If I hadn’t procrastinated, I would have finished the drawings on time.”

  • “If I had taken a taxi, I wouldn’t have missed the train and my meeting.”

  • “If I had pushed our ideas harder, I would have convinced the client”

  • “If they had looked at the drawings, they would have done it properly.”

  • “If he had followed our directions, they would have finished the project on time.”


👉 ….You can also switch the parts of the sentence around (clauses)


  • “I would have felt better if I hadn’t drunk so much coffee”

  • I would have finished the drawings on time, If I hadn’t procrastinated,”

  • “I wouldn’t have missed the train or my meeting if I had taken a taxi”

  • “I would have convincd the client if I had pushed our ideas harder”

  • “They would have done it properly if they had looked at the drawings.”

  • “They would have finished the project on time if he had followed our directions.”


Listen to the song “If I Were a Boy” by Beyonce to hear this used in context.



Quick grammar point [if] + past perfect subjunctive, would have + past participle OR would have + past participle + [if] + past perfect subjunctive

5. Mixed conditionals

If we are imagining a change in the past and want to describe how it would affect the present or vice versa, we use mixed conditionals.


When we do this, each part of the sentence (clause) is in a different tense.

In these mixed conditional sentences, the time is the past in the "if" clause and in the present in the main clause.


👉 Here are some examples…


Past/present


If + past perfect >> would + infinitive.


  • “If I hadn’t got the job in Paris, I wouldn’t be fluent in French.”

  • “If I had studied harder at college, I would have a diploma now”

  • “If I had asked about the design changes, I would have saved time.”


Present/past

If + past simple >> would have + past participle.


  • “If it wasn't important, I wouldn't have called you on your holiday.”

  • “I would buy a house by the sea if I had won the lottery yesterday.”


Quick grammar point [If] + past perfect, would + infinitive or would + infinitive, [If] + past perfect —------------ AND [If] + past simple, would have + past participle Or would have + past participle [If] + past simple,



How to tell the difference between the different types of conditionals?


Here’s a quick reference to help you tell the difference between the types of conditional.


Zero conditional If I’m hungry, I eatFirst conditionalIf I’m hungry, I will eatSecond conditionalIf I was hungry, I would eatThird conditionalIf I had been hungry, I would have eaten


How to learn conditionals

Learning all of these grammar rules can help you understand how the English language works. But unless you’re a grammar geek, they can often leave you feeling overwhelmed and might struggle to actually use them in a real-life context.


When I work with my coaching clients, we practice using them naturally in a variety of contexts to avoid stress or overthinking. If there are any issues, I can explain it to them in very simple language. Often they don’t even realise that they are practising conditionals!

Conditionals don't have to be as scary as you think and with plenty of practice, they become easier and easier. Use some of the example questions here to help practice giving answers off the top of your head.

  • Can you explain the process of what happens when you sandblast concrete?

  • What would you say to a client if they were not happy with your proposal?

  • If you finish the project this week, what will you work on next?

It's also a good idea to write down your own examples of each of the different conditional questions to help you see how they fit into the context and how you might use them.

 

English Coach for Architects

Contact me today to find out how I can help you master those tricky conditionals in a stress-free way so you can use them at work with confidence.


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