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I was watching a video on youtube about conditional sentences but I'm a bit confused when it says;

First conditional sentence;

If mother knows, we're in serious trouble.

How is it a first conditional sentence when there is no modal verb (will) in another part of it?

I think of it as a zero conditional.

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I agree. If you're familiar with the Conditionals I, II, and III, it's better to call it an example of Zero Conditional. However, it'd be even better "not" to understand English conditionals as Conditionals I, II, III, and Zero. –  Damkerng T. Apr 6 at 11:57
    
I agree with you, but wheh the topic is about conditional sentences (zero, l, ll, lll) how could we drift from it when you get the aforementioned example in first conditional. And I asked here, only to know If I'm wrong there to understand. Link to that video is here- youtu.be/_anoew0LTHg –  user5262 Apr 6 at 12:04
    
I understand your situation. It's difficult not to learn it, especially when the teacher uses it! However, native speakers don't think of the conditionals as I, II, III. So while it's useful, it can be misleading (especially when the teacher isn't careful enough). Here is an excerpt from the book Practical English Usage by Michael Swan, ... –  Damkerng T. Apr 6 at 12:14
    
256.3 'first', 'second' and 'third' conditionals; other structures -- "These are useful structures to practice. However, students sometimes think that these are the only possibilities, and become confused when they meet sentences like If she didn't phone this morning, then she's probably away ("What's this? A fourth conditional?"). It is important to realise that if is not only used in special structures with will and would; it can also be used, like other conjunctions, in ordinary structures with normal verb forms." –  Damkerng T. Apr 6 at 12:14
    
Above all, there's nothing wrong with the I, II, III, and Zero conditionals. Just keep in mind that they're not the only possibilities. Good luck with your learning! And, welcome to ELL! :-) –  Damkerng T. Apr 6 at 12:15

5 Answers 5

As Damkerng T. says, your best approach to this question is to throw away the rubbishy ‘three conditionals’ framework. These terms do not represent categories which actually exist in English.

If you are required to use this framework for a class, you should revise your understanding of the categories. There are three patterns here, defined by the tense on the verbs in each clause.

Keep in mind that each full clause has one tensed verb: if the verb is a multi-word construction, such as a progressive or perfect or modal, only the first verb in the chain has tense. English has two tenses, past or non-past. Ignore everything else and concentrate on those two tenses.

The three patterns employed in the ‘three conditionals’ framework are:

  1. Non-past in the IF (condition) clause and non-past in the THEN (consequence) clause

    If you gonon-past, I willnon-past follow.
    If you arenon-past happy, I amnon-past happy, too.
    If mother knowsnon-past, we'renon-past in serious trouble.

    Some teachers will call the second and third of these ‘zero conditionals’ in a desperate effort to maintain the framework; but as far as tense goes, they are identical with the first.

  2. Past in the IF (condition) clause and past in the THEN (consequence) clause.

    Note that these past tenses may signify remoteness in time (past Reference Time), in factuality (hypothteical or unreal eventualities), or in demand (polite or tentative approach).

    If you wentpast, I wouldpast follow.
    If you werepast happy, I waspast happy, too.
    If mother knewpast, we mightpast be in serious trouble.

  3. ‘Double’ past in the IF (condition) clause and ‘double’ past in the THEN (consequence) clause.

    By ‘double’ past I mean a pseudo-perfect construction: either had + past participle or past modal + have + past participle. These look like perfects, but do not have perfect meaning. The perfect construction signifies past temporal reference, and the past tense on the leading auxiliary signifies factual remoteness.

    If you had gonedouble past, I would havedouble past followed.
    If you had beendouble past happy, I would havedouble past been happy, too.
    If mother had knowndouble past, we might havedouble past been in serious trouble.

These ‘canonical’ forms still do not exhaust the possible conditional constructions, which is why teachers who use the ‘three conditionals’ framework have to tack a ‘mixed’ category on at the end. Except for #3 they are pretty useless in helping you understand what the constructions mean. But they may help you get through some of the problems which the framework creates.

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'If your mother knows, we are in trouble.' might be a 'first conditional' construct in one possible sense of that sentence, because it is possible in English (as well as in many other languages) to use a present tense construction to represent the future tense. (Also there is the 'present continuous' or 'present progressive' tense, e.g. 'We're doing the Macarena in our dance class next week.' which is similarly a future construction despite the apparent present tense.)

So, you could also say 'If your mother knows, we will be in trouble.' or 'If your mother knows, we are going to be in trouble.' each of which could mean the same thing, if, for instance, being in trouble is taken in a way that requires you already have had consequences laid down.

However, I am not sure I would put it in the first category outright, since there is at least one more way to read it: 'If your mother knows, we are in trouble (right now).', in a case, for instance, where being in trouble is taken as meaning that the person with whom you are in trouble has already decided that you are in trouble, but without requiring that you have already found out about it.

I generally take 'X is in trouble with Y' to mean that 'Y' has decided that 'X' is in trouble, and as independent of whether 'X' actually even knows that 'Y' has decided such. I don't think of it as having any requirement that the person in trouble actually has been notified. As mentioned elsewhere, this would seem to be a case that falls somewhere outside the typical 'formula' for a 'first conditional'.

However, given that your question was how the sentence was a first conditional, I would imagine that the sentence was regarded by the person who presented it as such as having a meaning such as in the first case (= 'we will be in trouble') rather than the second, and thus it would fall into the first category due to that equivalence.

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This is not a zero conditional. Zero coditional are used to express something which is always true. We can use when (=whenever instead of it.Here it would be a zero condional if the if clause was like this:" If mother knows we are bad, we're in serious trouble." "if" meaning "when". .** There's no rule that I know of that states that we can use the present tense in the main clause, but here "we're in trouble", has sort of " it is a fact, a general truth that we're in trouble, if mother knows.", meaning, so we can accept it as being correct.

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Then, what conditional the sentence is referring to? If it isn't a zero conditional then, what it would be? If we don't modify it with words (paraphrased) , what exact conditional sentence the example (given) would be ? I guess, the teacher wasn't enough careful while giving the demonstration about the 'CONDITIONAL SENTENCES'. –  user5262 Apr 6 at 12:35
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@user5262 The problem lies with the '3 conditionals' framework, not the teacher. This framework is a teaching tool: it does not describe all English conditionals, it just gives you an initial handle on the conditionals. Once you get to the point where it doesn't make sense, throw it away. –  StoneyB Apr 6 at 13:12

Well, actually the zero conditional is considered a 1st conditional, but here, "if" has the meaning of "when/whenever and the sentence expresses something that is always true.. Example: "If (When/ Whenever) you boil water, it evaporates."

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A condition can be real as in 1: 1 If it rains, I don't go shopping.

Or it can be unreal as in 2: 2 If I had* the money, I would buy a new car. (had* is a past subjunctive)

And you can also talk about an unreal condition in the past as in 3: 3 If I had* had the money, I would have helped you.

These are the main types of sentences with a condition in the if-clause. Schools think when they call these three types conditional I/II/III they help learners. Actually they only confuse things.

Beside these three main types there are other types, but they are no school matter.

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