The second conditional in action – English grammar

We use the English second conditional to talk about imaginary, hypothetical or unreal possibilities. In this video we’ll show you how to form the second conditional and when to use it. We look at:

First vs second conditional

First and second conditionals are similar because they’re both about present and future possibilities. The difference is the second conditional is more imaginary. We use it to talk about unlikely or unreal possibilities.

Second conditional examples

You’ll learn how to use the second conditional in conversation with a funny story. We’ll show you lots of examples in action in a story.


Click here to see our lesson on the first conditional
Click here to see our lesson on the zero conditional

The second conditional

Take me out to the ball game. Take me out to the park.
You’re in a good mood.
Well, The Phillies are playing the Dodgers today and I’ve got tickets to the game. Oh, do you want to come?
Oh yes! But I thought it was an afternoon game.
It is. If we leave at 2.30, we’ll be there for the start.
But what about the office? If we left at 2.30, Kathy would go crazy.
Nah! She won’t care.
She never lets us leave early.
Kathy. Can we go to the Phillies game today?
Absolutely not! Forget it.
Told you.

Hi I’m Vicki.
And I’m Jay and this video is the third in our series on English conditionals.
We’ve looked at the zero and the first conditional, and now it’s time to look at the second.
And we have another story for you, so you can see it in action.
A funny story! I think the second conditional is my favourite, because it’s about future possibilities.
But so is the first conditional.
Yes, but these possibilities are more imaginary. We just saw an example.
Then let’s see how it works.

If we left at 2.30, Kathy would go crazy.
Nah. She won’t care.

Second conditionals have two parts – two clauses. One is the condition and one is the result. In the condition clause we use ‘if’ with the past tense, and for the result we use the modal verb, would, and then the base form of the verb.
Notice we use ‘would’ in the result clause and not the condition clause. Like other conditionals, we can reverse the order and the meaning stays the same. Just remember to use a comma if the sentence starts with ‘if’.

If we leave at 2.30, we’ll be there for the start.

So Jay used a first conditional here but I used a second. They’re similar, but in the second conditional, we use the past instead of the present. And instead of ‘will’ we use ‘would’.
OK, so when do we use a first conditional and when do we use a second?
It depends on how likely we think something is.
How certain we are that it will happen.
Yeah. First conditionals are more probable and second conditionals are more hypothetical.
I thought Kathy would let us leave at 2.30.
You thought it was possible, so you used a first conditional.
But you didn’t think she would.
No, I thought she’d stop us, so I thought it was improbable – unlikely.
So if we think something is unlikely to happen, we use the second conditional.
Exactly.
Now something else is strange. We were talking about the future here, right?
Yeah.
But you used a past tense.
Yes! This is important. The past tense doesn’t indicate past time here. It indicates a distance from reality. We often use the past tense like this in English.
I think we need some more examples.
Then let’s have the story.
And while you’re watching, see how many second conditionals you can spot.

The second conditional in action in a story

I’ve got so much work to do and my assistant is Jay. You see the problem. But if I fired Jay, I could get someone else. A smart intelligent woman. The interviews are starting now.
Thanks for coming in.
The job sounds very interesting.
Well, I’ve got some questions for you.
Of course.
OK, first one. How long does it take you to reply to a text message?
Not long usually. If you texted me, I’d probably reply in about 5 or 10 minutes.
Wow! That’s much better than Jay. I texted him at ten last night and it took him two hours to respond.
You texted him at ten last night?
Yes. I wanted him to pick up my dry cleaning. In fact, that’s my next question! If I asked you to pick up my clothes from the dry cleaners, would you complain?
Well, it’s great to meet you.
You too.
I have a lot of questions for you, but this one is important for this job: Do you like dogs?
Yes.
Great because I have four rottweilers that I’d like to bring to the office.
But if you brought them to the office, they’d need walking.
Exactly. Thank you for offering. Now, I’m working on my master’s degree at the moment and sometimes it hard for me to get all my homework done.
Well, those degrees can be a lot of work.
So if I asked you to do my homework, would you help me?
So this is the break room where we can make our coffee and tea.
It’s very nice.
Sometimes I’m so busy, I don’t have time to make my tea.
Oh!
And it’s a big health problem for me because I get dehydrated and ill, you know.
Well, if you needed a cup of tea, I guess I could make one for you.
Thank you. I like herbal tea and I like it brewed for 3 minutes and 45 seconds and I’d like one every hour please.
If you were me, who would you choose? They were all good. Hi, it’s Vicki. I was very impressed with you at your interview and I’d like to offer you the job.
Oh, err, thank you but I’ve…. had another offer.
Well, not to worry.
So what do you think?
Oh. I’ve decided I wanted to spend more time with my family.
I’m afraid it’s not a good fit. I’m… allergic to herbal teas.
Oh. What’s that?
It’s your dry cleaning.
Oh.
Would you like a cup of tea?
Oh yes please. I guess he’s not that bad.

How many examples did you spot?
There were seven. Let’s look at them again.

But if I fired Jay, I could get someone else.

This is interesting because instead of ‘would’ you said ‘could’.
It means I would have the ability to get someone else. I’m not saying I would for sure, but it’s a possibility.
Well, thanks for that! So ‘would’ isn’t the only modal verb we can use in the results clause?
Yes, they have slightly different meanings but we can say would, could, may, might, should…
OK, another example.

If you texted me, I’d probably reply in about 5 or 10 minutes.
Wow!

If I texted you, you wouldn’t reply in 10 minutes.
No, I probably wouldn’t. I’m too busy!
Notice how we form negatives. The negative of would is would not – but when we’re speaking we usually use the contraction – would not – wouldn’t
OK, another example.

If I asked you to pick my clothes up from the dry cleaners, would you complain?

We heard a question there.
Yes. Would is a modal verb, so to form the question, we reverse the word order. You would complain. Would you complain?
That’s easy!
Yeah, next example.

Because I have four rottweilers that I’d like to bring to the office.
But if you brought them to the office, they’d need walking.
Exactly! Thank you for offering.

We heard another contraction there. They would – they’d.
Yeah.
Notice how we form contractions with would. I’d… you’d… he’d… she’d… it’d… we’d… they’d…
The problem my students have with these contractions is they confuse ‘I had’ with ‘I would’.
Oh yes. I had – I’d. I would – I’d. It’s the same contraction.
You have to look at the context to work it out.
OK. Another example.

Well, those degrees can be a lot of work.
So if I asked you to do my homework, would you help me?

‘Would you help me?’ is a very common phrase and it’s half of a second conditional.
We can also say ‘Can you help me?’ But ‘Would you help me?’ sounds a little more polite.
It’s because there’s more distance from reality.
I’m not sure if you’ll help me.
And that makes it a little more polite. We heard a similar example.

I get dehydrated and ill, you know.
Well, if you needed a cup of tea, I guess I could make one for you.
Thank you.

We could also say ‘I can make you a cup of tea’. It’s another way to make an offer.
But ‘could’ sounds a little more uncertain.
Yes, a little more tentative and polite.
So that’s why ‘would’ and ‘could’ are useful for making requests and offers.
Yes. OK, we have one more example and this is very interesting.

If you were me, who would you choose?

OK, so I have a question. Is it possible for you to be me?
No, of course not.
But that’s what I’m saying here. We can use the second conditional to imagine impossible things like if I had a million dollars….
If I were the President of the United States…
If I were twenty years younger…
A common phrase we use to give advice is ‘If I were you…’. So ‘if I were you I’d watch all our videos’ or ‘I’d study English every day’. It’s impossible for me to be you, but with the second conditional we can imagine unreal things.
Notice that the grammar is a little strange here. Normally with ‘be’ in the past tense we say I was, you were, he was and so on. But in the second conditional, we say ‘were’ for all the forms of the verb ‘be’.
Why is that?
It’s called the subjunctive, if you want to look it up, but if you get it wrong and say ‘I was’ instead of ‘I were’, it’s no big deal.
We often say that too in conversation.
Yeah. But if you’re taking an exam in English, they’ll often test you on this.
And then you want to say ‘If I were you…’ not ‘If I was you’.
So are we done?
Well, not really because we’re going to look at the third conditional next, but that’s another video.
So make sure you subscribe to our channel so you don’t miss it.
And if you’ve enjoyed this video, please share it with a friend.
See you all next week everyone. Bye-bye.
Bye.
Click here to see our lesson on the first conditional
Click here to see our lesson on the zero conditional

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.