Second Conditional in English

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Second Conditional

The second conditional is used to speak about future situations that are not likely to occur. For example:

  • If I won the lottery, I’d quit my job.

It would be great to win the lottery! But it’s not very likely to happen, unfortunately. So we use the second conditional to talk about it.

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We also use the second conditional to talk about present situations that are impossible:

  • If I had the proper key, I would open this door.

I don’t have the key, therefore it’s impossible for me to open the door. But that doesn’t stop me from wishing!

If Clause and Main Clause

Let’s break down the above example. Conditionals in English have an if clause and a main clause. The half of the sentence that starts with the word “if” is the if clause (now you see where the name comes from!). This part of the sentence cannot stand alone. In English, the phrase, “If I had the proper key,” is not a complete sentence by itself. However, the other half of the sentence, the main clause, is a complete sentence. You could say simply, “I would open this door,” in English and it would be grammatically correct.

To summarize:

  • if clause = the part of the sentence that begins with the word if.
  • main clause = the other part of the sentence.

You can put these two clauses in any order. It’s more common to put the if clause first, but it’s perfectly acceptable to say:

  • I would open this door if I had the proper key.

“I would open this door,” is the main clause.

“if I had the proper key,” is the if clause.

Forming Second Conditional in English

In second conditional, the if clause is in past simple. The main clause is formed by using the word would + the infinitive. Remember that would can be contracted to ‘d, as in these examples:

  • He would = He’d
  • I would = I’d
  • etc.

We can not contract would when using names and other proper nouns.

  • Henry would (NOT Henry’d)
  • Lulu would (NOT Lulu’d)

As discussed above, the two clauses can be in any order. Here are some examples:

  • If I met the Queen, I would kiss her hand.
  • Sally would jump for joy if she found her lost dog.
  • If we were in Africa today, we would go on safari.
  • If my father was president, this country would be a lot better off.

Differences Between First and Second Conditional

First Conditional Second Conditional
  • describes probable future situations
  • if clause: present simple
  • main clause: will + infinitive simple
  • example: If I have enough money, I will buy that sandwich. [This scenario is possible.]
  • describes improbable future situations or impossible present situations
  • if clause: past simple
  • main clause: would + infinitive
  • example: If I had enough money, I would buy the zoo. [This scenario is most likely impossible.]

 

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Or learn more about conditionals:

Zero Conditional

First Conditional

Third Conditional

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2016-03-14

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