Grammatically, when we construct a first conditional sentence, the if-clause is followed by a result clause with a "will" in it. However, in many formal texts written by native English speakers, I see that the result clause contains would instead of will. I have been searching for a grammar lesson explaining this for more than a year but of no avail. Could you please help me understand what is going on in such a structure? Here is an example from one of my textbooks:

If we continue in this fashion, letting the paint colors get progressively lighter with each successive choice experiment, she may express indifference at each step. Yet, if we offer her a choice between the darkest shade of gray and the final (almost white) color, she would be able to distinguish between the colors and is likely to prefer one of them.

  • 5
    English does not have numbered conditionals, at least as far as native speakers and indeed linguists assess these matters. This is all just sometimes-convenient fiction given out as grammatical “training wheels” to English Language Learners. This is the source are confusion: you've been sold a fiction that doesn't apply to the real world. There are hundreds and hundreds of different valid combinations of verb forms in both protasis and apodosis.
    – tchrist
    Commented Sep 26, 2020 at 19:43
  • @tchrist Thanks for your clarification. Do you know any resources in which I could study all of (or at least most of) these mixed conditionals and their differences?
    – C.B
    Commented Oct 13, 2020 at 8:06
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    Agree with @tchrist. See Michael Lewis 'The English Verb'.
    – user402504
    Commented Oct 19, 2020 at 7:23
  • @user402504 thank you :)
    – C.B
    Commented Oct 28, 2020 at 19:03

1 Answer 1


British English has 0-3rd + mixed and separate conditionals. American English tends to be less formal does not separate it to such a degree. Although, “would” is normally attributed to less of a possibility (2nd Con.) In your example, you can substitute “will” for “would” and get the exact same meaning that she will likely be able to tell the difference between such different shades. This would fill the purpose of a 1st conditional.

  • I understand that but given the extreme difference in color shading, almost black to almost white, it would almost (so not a zero) be a certainty, shy of some impairment of course. So it looks to based less on knowledge or a belief and more on such a drastic difference that it would be impossible not to distinguish between the shades. Using your example, "is able to" would appear to be just a truth and thus a zero. Such as If I turn this fridge down to 0, it is able to make ice cubes. Though, I would never use this. It’s too complicated.
    – Karel
    Commented Sep 26, 2020 at 22:53
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    IMHO It's not the same in this case: "would be able to" arguably seems to indicate an epistemic modality other than a certainty (will) . If it were certain, the sentence would read..."Yet, if we offer her a choice between the darkest shade of gray and the final (almost white) color, she is/will be able to distinguish between the colors...". "Will" does not indicate likelihood; it indicates certainty. "would be able to" in this case is like could (more or less). Commented Sep 26, 2020 at 23:01
  • BTW...not my downvote. Commented Sep 27, 2020 at 15:09

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