Lesson 6.3 Second Conditional

Lesson 6.3 Second Conditional

What is Second Conditional in English?

Second conditional in a nutshell:

6.3.1  Second conditional is a grammatical structure in English that predicts the result if a – usually unlikely – condition were met. For example:

If I won the lottery, I would be a millionaire.

Second conditional is also known as ‘the would condition’, ‘conditional type 2’, or ‘type 2 conditional’.

6.3.2  We use second conditional to talk about unlikely, impossible, or hypothetical actions, as well as for giving advice and making polite requests. For example:

Note: some students learn the ‘giving advice’ formula and repeat it as if it were the only use of second conditional.

The phrase ‘If I were you’ is an idiom – a fixed phrase with a set meaning. If we hear this phrase we know that advice is going to follow in the main clause. However, there is much more to second conditional, as we will discover.

We often use second conditional to express the following functions, among many others:

6.3.3  The time in second conditional can be either unreal present or unreal future. There is a sense that we are dissatisfied with our present or future situation and try to imagine a different – maybe better – one.

Unreal present means that we imagine a different present from the one that is real, e.g.

6.3.4  Unreal future means that we imagine a different future from the one that is more likely, e.g.

6.3.5  A second conditional sentence has two clauses (parts):

If clause:                                Main clause:

If we went out for dinner, I wouldn’t need to cook.

We can swap the order around and the meaning does not change:

Main clause:                      If clause:

I wouldn’t need to cook if we went out for dinner.

In spoken English – using connected speech – we usually use the contraction of subject + would – e.g. I’d, you’d, they’d, etc. – automatically. This applies even with names and places, for example:

Bob’d hate it if we were late.

If I didn’t finish my exams, the school’d be pretty disappointed.

In general we separate the clauses with a comma , when the if clause comes first, unless the sentence is very short, for example:

If he loved me I’d know.

When the main clause comes first we don’t generally need a comma:

I wouldn’t need to cook if we went out for dinner.

In the if clause we use past simple and in the main clause we use would + infinitive. It may seem strange to use a past tense to talk about present and future actions, but that’s English! Remember, there are no dedicated future forms in English.

We can also use past continuous in the if clause, instead of past simple:

If Beth were still living in France, we would be able to go and visit her.

We never use ‘would’ in the if clause, although many students like to try:

If we would go out for dinner, we wouldn’t need to cook.

Another quirk of second conditional form is that we often use ‘were’ instead of ‘was’ in 1st and 2nd person sentences, for example:

If I were you…      instead of      If I was you…

If he were a doctor…      instead of      If he was a doctor…

and so on. The truth is that both forms are acceptable in written and spoken English, but it is considered preferable to use ‘were’. It may be that it is simply easier to pronounce ‘If I were you…’ rather than ‘If I was you…’ because in the latter there is an extra consonant sound to pronounce – the s before the y of ‘you’, which makes it fractionally more difficult to pronounce.

Sometimes a sentence may look like it is second conditional, but it is not. For example:

If the teacher was in a good mood, he would let us watch a film.

In the main clause ‘would’ has the meaning of ‘used to’ and the time is real finished time in the past (past simple), rather than unreal present or unreal future.

We can sometimes omit the if clause and let it be implied, for example:

I would get more done on my own. (if you were not here)

We would have such a nice time. (if we went to the park)

It would be a waste of time. (if I tried to explain my feelings)

The film would be half over. (if we set off now)

For more on using past simple and past continuous, click here.

6.3.6  We can use other past tense modal verbs in the main clause. While ‘would’ usually means that the speaker’s intention is to perhaps do the action in the future, other modal verbs change the speaker’s intention:

Note that we can also use ‘could’ in the if clause, because it is the past form of ‘can’.

If I could move out and get my own place, I would have a party every night!

Therefore it is possible to use ‘could’ in both clauses:

If I could move out and get my own place, I could have a party every night!

For more on modal verbs, click here.

6.3.7  We can make either or both clauses negative:

Positive (both clauses):    If I got a new job, I would be more satisfied.

Negative (if clause only):    If I did not (didn’t) get a new job, I would be more satisfied.

Negative (main clause only):    If I got a new job, I would not (wouldn’t) be more satisfied.

Negative (both clauses):    If I did not (didn’t) get a new job, I would not (wouldn’t) be more satisfied.

6.3.8  We make a wh question with the main clause of the sentence. It is not possible to form a question with the if clause:

Example 1: If I were slimmer, I would feel more confident.

How: How would you feel, if you were slimmer? / More confident.

What: What would happen if you were slimmer? / I would feel more confident.

Example 2: If I took part in the school French exchange, I could go to Bordeaux.

Where: Where could you go, if you took part in the school French exchange? / Bordeaux.

What: What would happen if you took part in the school French exchange? / I could go to Bordeaux.

For more on forming wh questions, click here.

6.3.9  We can also make a yes / no question with the main clause of the sentence:

Example 1: If we bought a pub, we could become landlords.

Positive: Could you become landlords, if you bought a pub? / Yes, we could. or No, we couldn’t.

Negative: Could you become landlords, if you didn’t buy a pub? / No, we couldn’t. or Yes, we could.

Example 2: If I could drive, I would have more freedom.

Positive: Would you have more freedom, if you could drive? / Yes, I would. or No, I wouldn’t.

Negative: Would you have more freedom, if you couldn’t drive? / No, I wouldn’t. or Yes, I would.

Note that we can’t use a contraction without a main verb in a short answer:

For more on forming yes / no questions, click here.

6.3.10  While the ‘classic’ second conditional structure is the conjunction if + past simple / would + infinitive, we can also use other conjunctions  to form similar conditional sentences, although each brings a different focus:

6.3.11  Second conditional contrasts nicely with first conditional in terms of structure and time:

Optimists tend to use first conditional more: ‘If I get a pay rise, I’ll…’ while pessimists are more likely to use second conditional: ‘If I got a pay rise, I’d…’ The difference is in the outlook – how likely or unlikely the situation appears to be in the mind of the speaker or writer.

6.3.12  It can help (as an aide memoire) to think of the four conditionals in English as a family, called The Conditional Family. This enables us to understand the different mood of each conditional and learn when to use them:

Second conditional is characterised as the teenager Becca Conditional. Why? Because teenagers can often be found dreaming about an impossible future:

‘If I won The Voice, I would become a superstar!’

or they are focused on goals which are far off in the future, like studying:

‘If I didn’t get in to Stirling University, I’d have to think about my other choices.’

or planning their future life with a partner or family:

‘My parents would be so happy if I married somebody rich.’

‘What if I had a baby before I got started in my career?’

In contrast, Ferne Conditional (first conditional) is more concerned about real, likely events in the near future:

‘If I’m late for work again, my boss will fire me!’

Becca Conditional represents the sense that the speaker or writer has taken a step back from the present moment, from reality, to try to imagine a different present or future. Of course, this skill is one of the things that makes us human and that makes us successful as a species – we are able to consider, plan, and imagine the future in our minds, giving us an advantage over other species which cannot.

Click here for more on The Conditional Family – including teaching blog, podcast, and free printable worksheets.

6.3.13  Mixed conditionals are conditional sentences that mix clauses from second and third conditional. Like the other conditionals, the order of clauses can be reversed. Their structure looks like this:

second conditional                                                               third conditional

If a condition exists / doesn’t exist in general                the past could have been different

e.g. If Roger were more respectable, he could have become a local councillor.

Meaning: If Roger were more respectable in general, including now and in the past, he could have become a local councillor [in the past]. We could use third conditional and say ‘If Roger had been more respectable…’ but it implies ‘at that time’ rather than ‘in general’, which is the meaning we want to express.

third conditional                                                                   second conditional

If a condition had / had not occurred in the past         the present could be different

e.g. If Tom hadn’t met Mary, they would both still be single today.

Meaning: If Tom hadn’t met Mary at a specific time in the past, they would both still be single today. The past condition affects the present situation, so we use a mixed conditional to express this.

More examples:

  second conditional                                                        third conditional

If I were more generous,                                            I would have given some money to charity.

If Sarah wasn’t so nervous,                                        she would have agreed to sing at the ball.

  third conditional                                                            second conditional

If I had studied Physics at University,                       I could be a professor by now.

If we’d left earlier,                                                        we wouldn’t be stuck in a traffic jam [now].

6.3.14  This brings us to the subject of the increasing trend in English for past perfect to disappear and be replaced by past simple. Many varieties of English are now tending to drop past perfect in favour of past simple, for example:

With past perfect:     I had washed the car before leaving.

With past simple:     I washed the car before leaving.

The difference is that past perfect adds a feeling of greater time having elapsed before the second action (leaving), while past simple, although essentially giving the same information, loses that depth of time. This can lead to the downgrading of third conditional in favour of second conditional. Consider the same sentence but with different times intended by the speaker:

If I ate lunch [now or in the near future], I wouldn’t be hungry.

normal second conditional – hypothetical

If I ate lunch [in the past], I wouldn’t be hungry.

mixed conditional, with past simple instead of past perfect (3rd conditional)

The listener may understand the meaning largely via the context, rather than the form, but there is still room for miscommunication, and in British English we would probably be expecting to hear past perfect in this mixed conditional, rather than past simple.

Exercises:

[Click here to download the full answer pack]

Ex. 6.3.1 Error Correction  Which sentence is correct in each group?

1. a) If I bumped into Ariana Grande at the airport, I’ll be amazed!
b) If I bump into Ariana Grande at the airport, I’d be amazed!
c) If I bumped into Ariana Grande at the airport, I’d be amazed!
d) I’d be amazed if I bump into Ariana Grande at the airport!

2. a) I’d be in a mess if I lost my job.
b) If I lost my job, I’d be in mess.
c) If I my job lost, I’d be in a mess.
d) If I lose my job, I’d be in a mess.

3. a) If you in Scotland could live, where would you choose?
b) If you could live in Scotland, where would you choose?
c) Where will you choose, if you could live in Scotland?
d) If you could live in Scotland, where will you choose?

4. a) If I were you, I’ll get a second opinion.
b) I’d get second opinion if I was you.
c) If I were you, I’d getting a second opinion.
d) I’d get a second opinion If I were you.

5. a) It’ll be great if you cann babysit for your brother.
b) It’ll be great if you could babysit for your brother.
c) It’d be great if you can babysit for your brother.
d) It’d be great if you could babysit for your brother.

6. a) If I bought these sunglasses, they’d lock better.
b) If I bought these sunglasses, they’d look better.
c) If I bought these sunglasses, they’ll look better.
d) If I bought these sunglasses, they be looking better.

Ex. 6.3.2 Comprehension  Select the best option:

1. If we went to Greece in June,   a) it’d, b) it’ll, c) it will   be warmer.

2. a) It, b) If, c) I’f   you went to work dressed as an egg, what would your colleagues say?

3. a) As long, b) As long as, c) Provide   Bob didn’t mind, we could borrow his caravan in July.

4. Only if my husband left me   a) would, b) did, c) will   I consider using dating apps.

5. a) So long, b) If, c) When   you really wanted to apologise, you could buy me a ring.

6. If you   a) is, b) was, c) were   more positive, this journey would go quicker.

7. If you were a chocolate bar, what kind would you   a) been, b) be, c) being?

8. I   a) would, b) should, c) couldn’t   feel more confident if I had lip fillers.

9. If Tina cheated on me,   a) she, b) we, c) I   would totally forgive her.

10. If I didn’t get any Christmas presents, I would   a) written, b) write to, c) write   to Santa.

Ex. 6.3.3 Functions  Match the sentences to the functions:

Ex. 6.3.4 Writing  Write a main clause with an appropriate result:

a) If I had more money, ______________________________________________________.
b) ______________________________________________________ if my car broke down.
c) If I lived to be a hundred, ______________________________________________________.
d) ______________________________________________________ if Mia applied to Cambridge.
e) If my best friend didn’t buy me a birthday present, ___________________________________________.
f) If it wasn’t sunny, ______________________________________________________.
g) ______________________________________________________ if United won the FA Cup.
h) No, if you had supported me, ______________________________________________________.
i) ______________________________________________________ if they’d asked me first.
j) If I had to choose between chicken and ham, ______________________________________________.

Ex. 6.3.5 Writing  Write an appropriate if clause for each sentence:

a) ______________________________________________________, I could get a better job.
b) ______________________________________________________, he would tell his brother.
c) ______________________________________________________, I’d ask for one.
d) We could get to the gig on time ______________________________________________________.
e) I would be so surprised ______________________________________________________.
f) ______________________________________________________, it would be really nice.
g) ______________________________________________________, I might take a gap year.
h) I would lose weight _____________________________________________________.
i) The party would be a complete disaster ___________________________________________________.
j) ______________________________________________________, I would feel pretty nervous.

Ex. 6.3.6 Gap fill  a) Complete each gap using one of the following verbs in the appropriate form:

Becca Conditional (18) Daughter and student: focused on a hypothetical or distant future. She is:

Introspective:

If I 1.__________ two kilos by next month, I would look OK in that dress.
I’d 2.________ better marks if my teachers 3.________ me more.
If I 4._______ more confidence, I would 5._______ for the school play.

Unrealistic:

I would be a complete mess if I 6.__________ Drake!
If I won the Nobel Prize for Physics, I would 7.__________ rich and famous.
If I could 8.________ anywhere in the world, I’d 9.________ to Canada.

Planning ahead:

If I worked during the summer, I’d 10.__________ enough money for a car.
If dad 11._______ me some money, I’d be able to 12._______ a holiday.
If Jenny 13._______ ice-skating with me, we could 14._______ to David all night.

Giving advice:

If you advertised in the paper, more people would 15.__________ your team.
If I 16.________ you, I wouldn’t 17.________ that violet jacket to the prom.
Dad, if you just 18._______ to look on the bright side, you wouldn’t 19._______ so grumpy all the time!

Cautiously optimistic:

If I 20.__________ my German exam, I could probably retake it.
If I got a new bike for my birthday, I’d 21.__________ to uni every day.
If Jackie 22.________ with Tim, I’d probably try to 23.________ with him.

b) Write five second conditional sentences as Becca Conditional using each mood:

1. Introspective: ___________________________________________________________________________

2. Unrealistic: ___________________________________________________________________________

3. Planning ahead: ___________________________________________________________________________

4. Giving advice: ___________________________________________________________________________

5. Cautiously optimistic: _______________________________________________________________________

Ex. 6.3.7 Regular or Irregular Verbs  Complete each sentence using either a regular [ R ] or irregular [ I ] main verb:

1. If the director of our company quit, [ R ] ______________________
2. [ I ] ______________________ if I got a tattoo.
3. If I were a politician, [ R ] ______________________
4. If my car was stolen, [ I ] ______________________
5. [ R ] ______________________ if I got a part in Hamlet.
6. If we got divorced, [ I ] ______________________
7. If I met your brother, [ R ] ______________________
8. [ I ] ______________________ if I could have plastic surgery.
9. If England won the World Cup, [ R ] ______________________
10. [ I ] ______________________ if I couldn’t work due to illness.

Ex. 6.3.8 Giving Advice  Write the name of a person you know and the advice you would like to give them:
1. ______________ If I were you, _________________________________________________________
2. ______________ If I were you, _________________________________________________________
3. ______________ If I were you, _________________________________________________________
4. ______________ If I were you, _________________________________________________________
5. ______________ If I were you, _________________________________________________________
6. ______________ If I were you, _________________________________________________________
7. ______________ If I were you, _________________________________________________________
8. ______________ If I were you, _________________________________________________________

Ex. 6.3.9 Verb Forms Practice with Sentence Blocks Try making these sentence blocks with second conditional. [Find out how to make sentence blocks – click here.]

1. If I had more free time, I’d help you set up the room for the conference tomorrow.
What

2. If Becs found out about William’s bit on the side, she’d give him the boot in no time.
Who

3. If you upgraded your internet package, you’d get a much faster broadband speed.
How

4. If you mapped out a strategy, your goal would become clearer.
Whose

Ex. 6.3.10 Match the Clauses 1  Copy the image onto card. It shows fifteen sentences that use a conditional clause. Cut up the cards and get your students to match up both parts of each
sentence correctly. You could also show only one half of each sentence and elicit
ideas on how to complete the sentences:

Second Conditional - Match the Clauses 1

Second Conditional – Match the Clauses 1

Ex. 6.3.11 Match the Clauses 2  Copy the image onto card. It shows fifteen sentences that use a conditional clause. Cut up the cards and get your students to match up both parts of each
sentence correctly. You could also show only one half of each sentence and elicit
ideas on how to complete the sentences:

Second Conditional - Match the Clauses 2

Second Conditional – Match the Clauses 2

Ex. 6.3.12 Mixed Conditionals – Match the Clauses 1  Copy the image onto card. It has fifteen mixed conditional sentences. Cut up the cards and get your students to match up both parts of each sentence correctly. You could also show only one half of each sentence and elicit ideas on how to complete the sentences:

Mixed Conditionals - Match the Clauses 1

Mixed Conditionals – Match the Clauses 1

Ex. 6.3.13 Mixed Conditionals – Match the Clauses 2  Copy the image onto card. It has fifteen mixed conditional sentences. Cut up the cards and get your students to match up both parts of each sentence correctly. You could also show only one half of each sentence and elicit ideas on how to complete the sentences:

Mixed Conditionals - Match the Clauses 2

Mixed Conditionals – Match the Clauses 2

Ex. 6.3.14 What Would You Do? – These fun discussion activities are taken from the FREE Talk a Lot Intermediate Book 1 and give you opportunities to practise using second conditional:

Topic: Hotel

What Would You Do? - Hotel

What Would You Do? – Hotel

Topic: Problems

What Would You Do? - Problems

What Would You Do? – Problems

Topic: Media

What Would You Do? - Media

What Would You Do? – Media

Topic: Getting a Job

What Would You Do? - Getting a Job

What Would You Do? – Getting a Job


More information about Second Conditional:

Direct download: https://purlandtraining.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/talkalot-intermediate-book-1-second-conditional.pdf

Notes on Second Conditional

[Click here to download the full answer pack]


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