The Second Conditional is used to talk about ‘impossible’ situations.
- If we were in London today, we would be able to go to the concert in Hyde Park.
- If I had millions dollars, I’d give a lot to charity.
- If there were no hungry people in this world, it would be a much better place.
- If everyone had clean water to drink, there would be a lot less disease.
Note that after I / he/ she /it we often use the subjunctive form ‘were’ and not ‘was’. (Some people think that ‘were’ is the only ‘correct’ form but other people think ‘was’ is equally ‘correct’ .)
- If she were happy in her job, she wouldn’t be looking for another one.
- If I lived in Japan, I’d have sushi every day.
- If they were to enter our market, we’d have big problems.
Note the form ‘If I were you’ which is often used to give advice.
- If I were you, I’d look for a new place to live.
- If I were you, I’d go back to school and get more qualifications.
The Second Conditional is also used to talk about ‘unlikely’ situations.
- If I went to China, I’d visit the Great Wall.
- If I was the President, I’d reduce taxes.
- If you were in my position, you’d understand.
Note that the choice between the first and the second conditional is often a question of the speaker’s attitude rather than of facts. Compare these examples. Otto thinks these things are possible, Peter doesn’t.
- Otto – If I win the lottery, I’ll buy a big house.
- Peter – If I won the lottery, I’d buy a big house.
- Otto – If I get promoted, I’ll throw a big party.
- Peter – If I got promoted, I’d throw a big party.
- Otto – If my team win the Cup, I’ll buy champagne for everybody.
- Peter – If my team won the Cup, I’d buy champagne for everybody.[
Note that the ‘If clause’ can contain the past simple or the past continuous.
- If I was still working in Brighton, I would commute by train.
- If she were coming, she would be here by now.
- If they were thinking of selling, I would want to buy.
Note that the main clause can contain ‘would’ ‘could’ or ‘might.
- If I had the chance to do it again, I would do it differently.
- If we met up for lunch, we could go to that new restaurant.
- If I spoke to him directly, I might be able to persuade him.
Also note that sometimes the ‘if clause’ is implied rather than spoken.
- What would I do without you? (“if you weren’t here”)
- Where would I get one at this time of night? (“if I wanted one”)
- He wouldn’t agree. (“if I asked him”)