This morning I sat down to write some self-study material for my blended courses and I thought, why not add a blog post too, I’m sure it’ll be useful! The second conditional can be tricky, even for advanced students and a quick grammar review from time to time can be a big help. Let’s do it!
Second conditional usage
Conditional sentences can suggest that an event or situation is real (meaning it is true, generally happens, is likely to happen, has happened) OR it can suggest it is unreal (meaning it is imaginary, untrue, is unlikely to happen or did not happen)
The second conditional is an UNREAL conditional. We use it for hypothetical situations
If you had lots of free time, you could study English every day.In reality you do not have lots of free time and you are unlikely to have lots of free time any time soon!
Good to know!
- The second conditional is different from the first conditional because it is a lot more unlikely.
- For example (second conditional): If I had enough money I would buy a second house at the seaside (I’ll never have this much money, it’s just a dream, not very real)
- Compare with (first conditional): If I have enough money, I’ll buy a second house at the seaside (It’s much more likely that I’ll have enough money to buy the house)
Second conditional form
IF + past simple, + would + bare infinitive
We can use modals other than would in the main clause:
If we had more budget, we might be able to upgrade the system
I could go to the hairdresser more often if I had some more free time
If you were taller, you’d be able to go on that ride
Watch out! We don’t usually would in the if clause (unless for politeness! See below)*
- If we had more funding, we would be able to do lots more …
- NOT: if we would have more funding, ….
Second conditional sentences and examples
See above and below for examples. If you are enrolled in our blended courses, see lesson I never want to see you again!
Variations- advanced grammar
If only adds emphasis to hypothetical situations:
If only I had enough time!
If only you listened to me!
Watch out! With past events, if only adds a sense of regret and you need to use the third conditional (compare If only you listened to me (2nd) with If only you had listened to me (3rd): In the first case, you are complaining because in general this person never listens to you, but you wish they did! In the second, you are speaking about one situation in the past and you are expressing regret.
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Were to makes an event seem more hypothetical
If I were to ask you to move to the Dubai office, what would you say?
If we were to start the project earlier, how much discount would you offer?
After if, this makes the possibility of an event seem unlikely. In this example, I’m implying that I don’t expect you to see Mark:
If you should see Mark, could you tell him to call me?
If it were not for
If it were not for describes how one event depends on another
If it weren’t for Harry, we wouldn’t have the girls football team up and running
If it weren’t for my cleaner, my house would forever be a mess
Supposing instead of If
Supposing (or suppose) can replace if mainly in everyday speech
Supposing you won the lottery, what would you do?
Suppose you got the job, would you take it?
*Would for politeness
As I said before, we don’t usually put would in the if clause. Here is the exception
If you would wait here, I’ll see if the doctor is available
For more on polite and diplomatic language see this post