English Learner Article English Conditionals: Second Conditional

Summary: How to use the second conditional in English

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Second Conditional: Imaginary Present or Unlikely Future

The Second Conditional can be used used to talk about imaginary present situations, where we are imagining something different from what is really the case. We can also use it to talk about things in the future that are unlikely to happen, as the condition is unlikely to be met. We use the past tense in the condition part and would for the result.

IF Condition Time Result Possibility
  past simple present WOULD + base verb impossible
If I had the time,   I would learn Italian. I don't have the time, so I'm not going to learn Italian.
 past simplefutureWOULD + base verbunlikely
IfI won the lottery I would travel around the world.There's a very small chance of winning the lottery, so the trip is unlikely

We can use other modal verbs in the past tense in the result part of the sentence:

IF Condition Result Certainty
 past simple WOULD + base verb  
If I had the time, I would learn Italian. Although unlikely to happen, the speaker is sure that they would do it given the opportunity.
If I had more time, I might learn Spanish. Although unlikely to happen, it is only a possibility anyway.
If I had more time, I should learn some more about IT. Although unlikely to happen, the speaker is saying that it would be a good idea, but is not committed to it.
If I had more time I could learn Hindi. Although unlikely to happen, it is only a possibility anyway.

With the verb to be, there are two forms that can be used with I, he, she & it:

IF Condition Result
I, he, she, it Were  
If I were you, I'd marry her.
I, he, she, it Was  
IfI was you,I'd marry her.
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