Second Conditional usage in English Grammar

The Second Conditional is used to talk about ‘impossible’ situations.

  • If we were in London today, we would be able to go to the concert in Hyde Park. 
  • If I had millions dollars, I’d give a lot to charity.
  • If there were no hungry people in this world, it would be a much better place.
  • If everyone had clean water to drink, there would be a lot less disease. 

Note 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 she were happy in her job, she wouldn’t be looking for another one. 
  • If I lived in Japan, I’d have sushi every day.
  • If they were to enter our market, we’d have big problems.

Note the form ‘If I were you’ which is often used to give advice.

  • If I were you, I’d look for a new place to live.
  • If I were you, I’d go back to school and get more qualifications.

The Second Conditional is also used to talk about ‘unlikely’ situations.

  • If I went to China, I’d visit the Great Wall.
  • If I was the President, I’d reduce taxes.
  • If you were in my position, you’d understand. 

Note that the choice between the first and the second conditional is often a question of the speaker’s attitude rather than of facts. Compare these examples. Otto thinks these things are possible, Peter doesn’t.

  • 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.[

Note that the ‘If clause’ can contain the past simple or the past continuous.

  • If I was still working in Brighton, I would commute by train.
  • If she were coming, she would be here by now.
  • If they were thinking of selling, I would want to buy.

Note that the main clause can contain ‘would’ ‘could’ or ‘might.

  • If I had the chance to do it again, I would do it differently.
  • If we met up for lunch, we could go to that new restaurant.
  • If I spoke to him directly, I might be able to persuade him.

Also note that sometimes the ‘if clause’ is implied rather than spoken.

  • What would I do without you? (“if you weren’t here”)
  • Where would I get one at this time of night? (“if I wanted one”)
  • He wouldn’t agree. (“if I asked him”)
START QUIZ

How do you write a second conditional sentence?

Use a past form in the ‘if’ clause and ‘would’ in the main clause.

If I wanted, I would do it.
If you went to Paris, you would love the food.
If we left now, we would catch the early train.

When do we use the second conditional?

When we think something is unlikely or impossible.

if you were me, you wouldn’t do it.
If They went, they would be miserable.