Second Conditional Sentences

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Why Do We Use Second Conditional?

Each conditional sentence has its own purpose. We use Second Conditional when we want to express an unlikely result of an action.

Imagine John. John is the most ordinary guy. He has a regular job. John says:

If I were rich I would buy myself a Ferrari!

This is a hypothetical situation. John is not rich, he has the most ordinary job and salary. What he says is just an imaginary situation. Although it is possible. John may get rich in the future. But at the moment, he has no money. Therefore, this situation remains, although possible, but unlikely for John.

Despite the fact that we use Past Simple and the verb would we are not talking about the past. In Second Conditional, we talk about a hypothetical present or future.

Second Conditional Formula

We use Past Simple in the part with the condition (if). We use would + a verb without the particle to in the main part with the result.

This formula looks like this:

{If + Past Simple} comma {Would + Bare Infinitive}

If I were (Past Simple) rich, I would go (Would + Bare Infinitive) to live in Paris.

We can swap these two parts, the meaning of Second Conditional does not change.

I would go (Would + Bare Infinitive) to live in Paris if I were (Past Simple) rich.

Second conditional formula and examples.
Second conditional formula.

The Logic Of Second Conditional

The second conditional refers to the present. When we use Second Conditional we mean that we are talking about the present. We use Past Simple because in this way we emphasize that we are talking about an unreal or hypothetical situation.

In many languages, including English, past tenses are used to “push” action from the real to the imaginary.

It is important to understand that situations expressed with the help of Second Conditional are not based on the reality that exists at the moment of speaking. However, this is possible hypothetically.

To use Second Conditional correctly, it is important to understand what degree of probability this type of sentence expresses.

For example, imagine one more time that I have a friend John. We live in the same city as him. So if I want to guess what happens if I meet John on the street, I’ll use First Conditional:

If I meet John, I will be very happy!

We use First Conditional because I have a chance to meet him. Therefore, we cannot use Second Conditional for such a sentence.

Now imagine that John lives in another city and I haven’t seen him for a long time. In this case, meeting John on the street is a hypothetical situation. I will use Second Conditional:

If I met John, I would be very happy!

Or imagine that I have a dream to meet a Martian! This is an unrealistic situation. At least hypothetically, we can imagine this in our dreams. In this case, I can also use Second Conditional.

If I met a Martian I would be very surprised.

I Were

When we use Past Simple along with the pronoun I and the verb to be, we use the form of the verb to be was.

I was.

But in Second Conditional, we often say I were.

This is not a mistake. We use I were instead of I was on purpose. When we say I were we are trying to show that this is an imaginary situation …

If I was rich.
If I were rich.

These two expressions are equivalent in meaning, but when we say I were, we further emphasize the impossible and imaginary nature of the situation.

If I were him, I’d never forgiven you.

If I were in your shoes, I’d be upset about all that.

If I weren’t married, maybe things would be different.

But we can use was in informal speaking.

If I was him, I’d never forgiven you.

Why we use are were instead of  I was.
I were instead of I was.

Other Modal Verbs Instead Of Would

In Second Conditional, usually, we use the modal verb would in the main part (where we express the result).

If I were to tell him the truth, he would be angry.

If I were your husband, I would die of pride.

However, we can replace the verb would with any other modal verb like could or might if we think that another verb will better express the meaning of the sentence.

Most often we use one of the modals:

  • Could
  • Should
  • Might

By replacing would with other modal verbs, we change the degree of confidence in what we think might happen.

If I were there, I could throw something at him.

If I were a cynic, I might say don’t gamble.

Remember that after modal verbs we use the main verb without the particle to.

Correct: might say
Incorrect: might to say
Correct: could throw
Incorrect: could throwing

Explanation how we can replace the verb would with any other modal verb.
Modal verbs.

Second Conditional When We Give Advice

We use Second Conditional to provide advice. Since Second Conditional expresses a hypothetical situation, it is suitable for expressing the imaginary action we are advising.

If I were you, I’d kiss my son.

If I were you, I’d go to bed early.

If I were you, I’d be very nice to my boss.

We often give advice like this using the phrase:

If I were you

Thus, we hypothetically imagine that we are the person to whom we give advice.

But we can use this formula to advise someone in the third-person singular:

  • He
  • She
  • It

If he were alive, you could ask him yourself.

If he were a man with honor, you would live.

If she were here, she’d tell me I look fat in this dress.

In this case, we also say were instead of was. Because this is a hypothetical situation for the person we are talking about.

Rule and example how we can use second conditional to provide advice.
Second conditional usage.

Second Conditional When We Dream

With Second Conditional, we can express our dreams.

If I were rich, I’d hire you to do everything for me.

In this case, we understand that we are talking about an unreal situation. But we use Second Conditional to communicate what we would like to see.

If I were rich, I would go abroad.

We cannot use Second Conditional to express real dreams such as plans for the future. Using Second Conditional, we are talking about dreams from our fantasy world.

Explanation of how to use the second conditional to express our dreams, examples.
Second conditional usage.
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