How and when to use the Second Conditional in English

Second Conditional

How to use the Second Conditional: “If I met Johnny Depp, I would try to kiss him”.

Are you experts at using the Zero and First Conditionals yet? I hope so!!

Today, on a day when we’re probably all looking out of the window and wishing we were somewhere else, we’re going to look at how and when to use the Second Conditional. It is similar to the First Conditional, because we are still thinking mostly about the future. However whereas the First Conditional discusses events which are likely to happen, the Second Conditional talks about a future (or sometimes present) event that will probably not happen, or is impossible. We can all dream, can’t we?

 

First, let’s look at how it is formed:

 

If + past simple, would + bare infinitive

If I won the lottery, I would travel the world.

 

We can use ‘were’ instead of ‘was’ for first person (‘I’) and third person singular (‘he/she/it’). This is mostly used in formal writing.

 

E.g. If I were Barack Obama, I would encourage world peace.

Here, I’m using ‘were’ instead of ‘was’.

Just like with the other conditionals, we can swap round the two parts of the sentence and remove the coma:

 

Would + bare infinitive if + past simple

I would encourage world peace if I were Barack Obama.

 

It has two uses:

 

Firstly, we use it to talk about an event in the future that is very unlikely. Perhaps a dream of yours that you know is never going to come true. For example:

 

  • If I met Johnny Depp, I’d try to kiss him. [Note how I have contracted 'I would' to 'I’d'].
  • If she ate more, she wouldn’t be so thin!
  • You would improve your English if you studied more.
  • What would you do if you met the Queen?

 

Secondly, we can use it to talk about an event in the present, which is impossible because it’s not true. For example:

 

  • If I had Johnny Depp’s phone number, I would call him to ask him out on a date. [I don’t have his phone number, so I can’t call him].
  • If Clara didn’t work so much, she would spend more time with her children. [But she does work a lot, and therefore does not spend much time with her children].
  • If you had a one-way ticket to any destination, where would you go? [Unfortunately, you do not have a one-way ticket.]

 

Finally, we can use modal verbs such as ‘could’, ‘should’ or ‘might’ instead of ‘would’. For example:

 

  • If I won a million Euros, I could stop working.

 

Next week we’ll talk about the final conditional form, the Third Conditional. If you have any questions about this please feel free to leave a comment below! Happy Monday, everyone!
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