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Second Conditional

Second Conditional

Date: Oct 03 2007

Topic: Grammar

Author: rhyme_reason


We can use the Second Conditional to talk about 'impossible' situations.

  • If I had one million dollars, I'd give a lot to charity.
  • If there were no more hungry people in this world, it would be a much better place.
  • If we were in New York today, we would be able to go to the free Elton John concert in Central Park.

Notice that after I / he/ she /it we often use the subjunctive form 'were' and not 'was'. (Some people think that 'were' is the only 'correct' form but other people think 'was' is equally 'correct' .)

  • If I were in Tokyo, I'd have sushi every day.
  • If she were really happy in her job, she'd be working much harder.
  • If IBM were to enter our market, we would have big problems.

Notice the form 'If I were you' which is often used to give advice.

  • If I were you, I'd change my job.
  • If I were you, I'd sign up for Pearson's fantastic English lessons.

We can also use the Second Conditional to talk about 'unlikely' situations.

  • If I won the lottery, I'd buy my parents a big house.
  • If I went to the moon, I'd bring back some moon rock.
  • If you met him, you'd really like him.

Notice that the choice between the first and the second conditional is often a question of the speaker's attitude rather than of facts. For example, consider two people Peter Pessimist and Otto Optimist.

  • Otto – If I win the lottery, I'll buy a big house.
  • Peter – If I won the lottery, I'd buy a big house.
  • Otto – If I get promoted, I'll throw a big party.
  • Peter – If I got promoted, I'd throw a big party.
  • Otto – If my team win the Cup, I'll buy champagne for everybody.
  • Peter – If my team won the Cup, I'd buy champagne for everybody.

Notice that the 'If clause' can contain the past simple or the past continuous.

  • If I was still living in Brighton, I would commute by train.
  • If they were thinking of coming, they would let us know.
  • If she were coming, she would be here by now.

Notice that the main clause can contain 'would' 'could' or 'might.

  • If I met him again, I wouldn't recognize him.
  • If we met up for lunch one day, I could take you to that new restaurant.
  • If I spoke to him directly, we might be able to reach an agreement.

Also notice that sometimes the 'if clause' is implied rather than spoken.

  • What would I do without you? ("if you stopped working here")
  • Where would I get one at this time of night? ("if I went looking for one")
  • He wouldn't agree. ("if we asked him")

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