If, When and Unless

Hi English learners! Welcome to a new grammar lesson. We will be talking about the conjunctions if, when and unless.


We use if to say that something will happen or is true only if something else happens or is true.

  • If I see Michael, I’ll tell him to call you back.
  • We would like to go for a picnic if the weather is nice.
  • You’ll get wet if you don’t get in.


We use when to say at which time something happens.

  • When are you setting off?
  • I saw Mary when I was in the city.
  • I found some old letters when I was cleaning the attic.

If, When and Unless

When to use if and when?

We use if for something that may happen and when for something that will certainly happen.

  • If he comes, let me know. (He may come)
  • When he comes, let me know. (He will come)
  • If I find out what time the film begins, I’ll tell you. (He may find out)
  • When I find out what time the film begins, I’ll tell you. (He will find out)

We also use if to talk about something imaginary.

  • If I were rich, I would stop working.
  • If you worked harder, you would have enough money to buy a car.
  • If Mary had his number, she would call him.

If, When and Unless


Unless is a conjunction which means “except if” or something is possible to happen only in a particular situation.

  • Unless you leave now, you’ll be late.
  • I’d like to go to the cinema unless you have a better suggestion.
  • The doctor won’t be able to help you unless you tell him what’s wrong.

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Unless and if

Unless means “if not”.

  • They won’t let you in unless you have a ticket. (if you don’t have a ticket)
  • It’s difficult t get a good job unless you have a degree and experience. (if you don’t have it)
  • They will cut off your electricity unless you pay the bill.

Use unless to talk about exceptions.

  • You shouldn’t try to fix that computer by yourself unless you know how to do it. 
  • Don’t bother me unless it’s something really serious.
  • We never go out for Christmas unless we’re in a warm country.
If, When and Unless
If, When and Unless

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