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.

A Song Using the 2nd Conditional

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.”

Second Conditional Form

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.

or

Main Clause Conditional Clause
I would buy a big house if I won the lottery.
I’d study Japanese if I had more time.

More Examples

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).

Dialogue

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.

More Videos

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:

-> Ready for an exercise?