Past zero conditional

From Teflpedia

A past zero conditional is a type of repeated conditional structure in English. This is essentially the zero conditional but in the past tense, and refers to a series of events in past time that no longer happen, but used to be triggered by the condition.

For example, "If I misbehaved as a child, my mother disciplined me."


  • Did this happen once or many times (many times).
  • Is the time in the past/present/future (past).
  • So, did my mother regularly discipline me? (yes).
  • If I misbehaved today, would my mother discipline me? (no).
  • Can we replace "if" with "when", "whenever", "every time" or "every time"? (yes)

Note the difference in meaning with the 3rd conditional: the 3rd conditional equivalent form "If I had misbehaved, my mother would haved disciplined me" is an unreal conditional that refers to a single occasion when I did not misbehave; this single occasion may have spanned my entire childhood in which case it improbably implies that I never misbehaved as a child.

We can use "used to"; e.g. "If I misbehaved as a child, my mother used to discipline me."

It is possible to produce an syntactic ambiguity with the 2nd conditional if "would" is used to express certainty, e.g. "If I misbehaved, my mother would discipline me." Context however will usually disambiguate the sentence; it can be clarified by simply substituting in "when" for "if" or adding a time adverbial.