Second conditional

From Teflpedia

The second conditional, also known as a type 2 conditional or an improbable conditional is an English pedagogical conditional consisting of an unreal conditional structure used to express hypotheticals, i.e. unlikely or impossible situations and their natural consequences, in present time, future time or general time.

For example: If I won the lottery, I'd buy a car.

Meaning[edit | edit source]

The condition must be in present time, future time or general time, and it must from the perspective of the speaker, be relatively unlikely. A mathematical probability of p < 0.5 would represent a typical boundary. If the condition is considered probable, then a first conditional should be used instead. There are some contexts around p ≃ 0.5 where either the first or second conditionals would be appropriate.

The consequence must also be in present time, future time or general time.

In the specific form of If I were you, this is used for giving advice.

Form[edit | edit source]

Conditional clause[edit | edit source]

The conditional clause is in the past tense and (usually) uses the subjunctive. Note that the past tense is used, even though it concerns present time or future time.

Example clause Notes
"If I won a lot of money …" The 'standard' if clause in the past tense.
"If I were rich…" With be we tend to say "were" rather than "was" as this subjunctive
"Were I rich…" With be it’s possible to form a conditional clause by inversion
"Had I a lot of money…" It’s also possible with "have" - but not other verbs.
"If I were to win a lot of money…" We can use "were to" with actions, but not general truths.
"Were I to win a lot of money,…" We can also invert "were to".
"Should I win a lot of money,…" We can use should to form conditionals as well.

Consequential clause[edit | edit source]

The consequential clause uses the past simple with the modal verb "would", "could" or "might".

  • "If I knew the answer, I would tell you."

We can use add the progressive aspect:

  • "If I knew the answer, I would be telling you now."

We can’t use the perfect aspect (that transforms into a present condition, past consequence mixed conditional).

Pedagogy[edit | edit source]

English language learners acquire this structure at intermediate level, and after they have learnt the zero conditional and the first conditional. The second conditional forms the basis for teaching the third conditional.

References[edit | edit source]