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 simplepresentWOULD + base verbimpossible
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 simpleWOULD + 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 mightlearn Spanish. Although unlikely to happen, it is only a possibility anyway.
If I had more time, I shouldlearn 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 couldlearn 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, itWere 
If I were you, I'd marry her.
I, he, she, it Was 
IfI was you,I'd marry her.
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