“If” Part 1 – Zero Conditional

In English there are many times we use the word “if”. These sentences are called “conditionals”.

There are four types:

  1. Zero Conditional

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

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  1. First Conditional

“If I drop my phone it will break”

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  1. Second Conditional

“If I won the lottery, I would buy a car.”

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  1. Third Conditional

“If I hadn’t drunk so much last night I wouldn’t have had a hangover this morning.”

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All of these sentences have two parts. There is the conditional (the “if” part) and the result.

The order doesn’t matter.

“If I drop my phone it will break” is the same as “My phone will break if I drop it.”

All of these conditionals have different meanings. We will look at them one by one

Zero Conditional – Facts

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

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In this sentence we have the condition “If I drink too much coffee” then we have the result “I can’t sleep.”

The condition is in present tense. The result is in present tense.

In English we use present tense for things that are always true (“I am Canadian”) or things that happen again and again regularly (I exercise everyday).

Zero conditional sentences aren’t really conditionals. They are basically just facts. You don’t even need to use the word “if”. You can replace it with “when”, “whenever” or “every time”.

If I watch that movie I cry.

When I watch that movie I cry.

Every time I watch that movie I cry.

We use this grammar when we have experienced something in the past and it was true, so we think that it will be true always. You are not talking about the future, or a plan, you are just stating a fact.

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Next time: First Conditional

Play

“I play chess”, ok.

“I play soccer”, that’s fine.

“I play swimming” nope!

 

Sometimes it’ s hard to know when to use the word “play”. Why is it okay to use it for some sports like soccer, baseball and badminton but not allowed for other sports like skiing, swimming and boxing?

We have to think three categories: games, sports and exercise. Chess is a game; there are rules, teams, points and a clear winner and loser. “We play games.” “I play chess”, “I play video games”, “I play hide and go seek.”

Now, some sports are also games: Soccer, baseball, badminton (even 1 person teams are ok), etc. They have teams, rules and points. So you ‘play’ them. The exception is combat sports like boxing, Taekwondo or MMA. They have teams, rules, points and clear victors – but fighting is too violent to be called a game.

Then there are sports which aren’t games. Skiing is a sport, there are (usually) no teams or points and the rules for victory are usually very clear and simple (such as who goes fastest). These are usually verbs on their own: “I ski”, “I swim”, “I run”.

Many sports are also exercise (good for your body) but a lot of exercise isn’t a sport. Yoga is exercise, you can’t “win” you are just doing the activity to help your body. You ‘do’ these things: “I do yoga”, “I do weightlifting”, “I do Pilates”.

 

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The Schwa (ə) and stress


Knowing when to add stress in a sentence can be a little difficult, and some words can change their sound if they are unstressed. In English we stress the content words in a sentence, the ones that convey meaning to the listener. Generally this means that nouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs and negation words are all stressed in a sentence. Smaller words that carry no content, like prepositions and articles, are usually unstressed. Not only are unstressed words generally said quieter, but their vowel sounds are replaced with a schwa.
“I am going to the store to buy some coffee” would be strange to hear, as if every single word in the sentence is very important for the listener.
“I’m going to the store to buy some coffee” is more natural.
to (tu) becomes to (tə), the (ði) becomes the (ðə), some (sʌm) becomes some (səm)
All of the vowels have been replaced with the schwa (ə), the sound that the human moth makes when the throat, lips and tongue are relaxed and you just let a sound come out. (ə)
The bad news is that this means that half the words in a sentence you hear can become unintelligible, said quietly and with altered pronunciation. The good news is that you can ignore them and still understand the sentence.
“I’m going to the store to buy some coffee”
“I’m going store buy coffee” tells you everything you need to know.
Of course you can choose to add stress to non-content words if they are important. For example instead of saying this is “the end” I could say this is “the end” emphasizing the finality.

Intonation

 

After learning all the pronunciation rules of English, like getting your tongue between your teeth for a ‘th’ sound and getting your tongue far back in your mouth for a strong ‘r’ then there is still a roadblock in speaking English naturally and that is stress.
I’m not talking about the stress you feel when speaking English (although that’s an issue too) I’m talking about the way that native speakers add stress to certain words in sentences. The three ways of adding stress are with volume, duration or pause.
Volume: “I love you”
Duration: “I love you”
Pause: “I love you”
In all of these sentences ‘love’ was made more important by adding stress to it. English speakers usually use volume when adding stress, so don’t worry too much about the other two.
Stress can really change the meaning of a sentence.
“I love you” = I am the one that loves you, not others.
“I love you” = I love you, not hate you or other emotions
“I love you” = You are the one that I love, not others.
Since English doesn’t mark the parts of speech (like subject, verb and object) with particles like some Asian languages the stress becomes useful sometimes for figuring out meaning. This is also the reason that English native speakers sound a little funny when speaking languages like Korean or Japanese since they usually add stress into languages that don’t need it.

One- Bite English

Thanks for joining me!

“What’s the best way to eat an elephant? One bite at a time!”

My name is Kevin Manley, I am an EFL teacher with over 12 years of experience and I’ll be using this blog to help people all over the world increase their English skills.

Learning a new language can seem really tough, but if you keep trying you can do it! Like eating an elephant, the best way to do it is bit-by-bit.

I’ll be sharing grammar lessons, explaining some phrases, offering listening practice, I’ll also try to produce some video lessons and podcasts.

If you have any English Language questions please comment below or send an email to kevin@1biteenglish.com, your feedback will help me give everyone the best lessons possible!