I have learned a lot about the first, second and third conditionals, but something that always crossed my mind is why they are called 1st, 2nd and 3rd.

Does anyone have an explanation for this?

There are other terminologies, such as Type I, II and III Conditionals, but as far as I researched, there's nothing further than this, they're always named with numbers.

Are there any other names we can name these conditionals?

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    I think it's just a way to separate the forms. You could probably also get away with calling them "present simple", "past simple" and "past perfect" conditionals, but not everyone will understand what those mean. I guess giving them numbers makes them easier for learners. Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 15:21
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    Incidentally, you may want to edit your question to include a link to or explanation of what first, second and third conditionals are, in case someone reads the question who hasn't come across that terminology before. You should also include any prior research you did to find an answer before you posted your question. Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 15:22
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    Any moment you should be receiving a comment with a link dissing (deriding) the terminology, and claiming that there is no such thing as 1st, 2nd, or 3rd conditionals; so don't be upset or surprised. You have been warned.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 16:15
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    English grammar was traditionally analyzed along the lines of Latin grammar, for which the basic conditionals are simply factual (indicative) and counter-factual (subjunctive). This doesn't really apply to English, but it nevertheless colored the way English grammar was taught until very recently. If I had to venture a guess, some textbook author probably declared factuals to be Type I and counterfactuals to be Type II to map to the Latin types, and the Type 0 and Type III were added later on after the fact.
    – choster
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 16:33
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    Bottomline, it was made this way as to ease teaching and learning English? That makes sense, but it's very difficult to remember which grammar structure we should use just by looking at their numbers. Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 16:40

1 Answer 1


They're numbered in order, based on how removed they are from reality.

First: "If I have time, I'll go." It's not yet known whether or not I'll have time, but it's possible. So the statement is not at all far from reality.

Second: "If I had time, I would study grammar." I don't have time now, but I may in the future, and I know how I plan to spend it. So it's not immediately realistic, but it may become so.

Third: "If I had had time, I would have answered more questions." I didn't have time, and so I didn't answer more questions. This is strictly contrary to reality.

  • I like this answer because it explicitly suggested a way for better understanding which conditional I am using in a sentence (even though it doesn't help much in everyday speech, but nice to know anyways) Commented Apr 4, 2016 at 4:07

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