The Second Conditional
The second conditional is used to talk about unreal present or future possibilities. We use it to talk about imaginary situations, for example:
- If I won the lottery, I would buy a new house.
- He wouldn’t do that if he were nicer.
- I would start learning the guitar if I had more time.
It is contrasted to the first conditional, which is used in real situations.
Lets take a look at a song that uses the this conditional – Barenaked Ladies – “If I Had a Million Dollars“:
“If I had a million dollars,
If I had a million dollars,
Well, I’d buy you a house,
I would buy you a house.”
It is formed by using the past simple, and then would + base verb.The order of the clauses of these two sentences can be reversed in the second conditional.
Second Conditional Form
|Conditional Clause||Main Clause|
|If I won the lottery,||I would buy a big house.|
|If I had more time,||I’d study Japanese.|
|Main Clause||Conditional Clause|
|I would buy a big house||if I won the lottery.|
|I’d study Japanese||if I had more time.|
When using ‘I’ and the verb ‘to be,’ we switch from ‘was’ to were’: This is used a lot when we use, ‘If I were you,’ which is used for giving advice.
- I wouldn’t do that if I were you.
- If I were you, I’d go traveling for a while.
- If I were you, I’d leave him.
Instead of ‘would’ we can use: ‘might’ or ‘could.’
- If I had more time, I could start learning the guitar.
- I might agree to go out with him if he asked me.
The second conditional is used for both impossible and unrealistic situations. Take a look at the following examples; some are unrealistic, while others are impossible:
- If I were taller, I’d be a lot better at basketball (impossible situation).
- If I had more time, I’d help you with your project (unrealistic).
Sometimes it is highly unlikely, and sometimes it could be possible in the future.
- If I were President, I’d reduce taxes and end the wars (highly unlikely).
- If I had a car, I’d take road trips all the time (possible).
The following conversation has many examples of the second conditional.
Sean: Did you hear that Grant is in China at the moment?
Colin: That’s amazing. Where would you travel to if you had the money?
Sean: I’d definitely go to South America, probably Brazil and Argentina.
Colin: I’d travel around Asia.
Sean: If you won the lottery, what would you do?
Colin: I’d give up my job, go traveling, and then buy an apartment downtown.
Sean: I’d go traveling too, but then buy a Porsche.
Colin: That reminds me; my car is making some funny noises at the moment, what should I do?
Sean: If I were you, I’d just take it to the mechanic.
Here is a video asking people what they would do if they won the Mega Millions (lottery).
Here are some clips of songs that use the second conditional: