The Second Conditional and all its possibilities

The second, or present, conditional is a very popular lesson, since it is fun and it gets students talking. Nearly everybody has a good time imagining what they would do with a million euros or what they would do if they saw an alien.


If I had space in my car I would give you a ride

If the river were cleaner, more people would swim here

theory-icon-red-i360-by-diverbo   THEORY


  • If it rains, we won’t play softball – future possibility
  • If it rained cheese, I would not stop playing – unreal statement used to exaggerate a point


We use the second conditional to talk about an event that is unreal, impossible or improbable at the moment of speaking. The structure is ‘If + past simple’ and the result is with ‘would’:

  • If I lived on the coast, I would go to the beach every afternoon. (I don’t live on the coast)
  • If I won the lottery, I would quit my job. (improbable/impossible)


With this structure it is common to substitute ‘were’ for ‘was’:

  • If I were you, I would invest in government bonds.


‘Purists’ say that you must always use ‘were’, but most grammar books say that it is acceptable to use ‘was’:

  • If Francine was/were here, she would tell you the whole story.


The order of the sentence is typically not important. You can begin with the ‘would’ part or the ‘if’ part:

  • If the tickets were free, we would attend the function.
  • We would attend the function if the tickets were free.

What you CANNOT say is ‘If I would’.


i360-by-diverbo-useful-vocabulary VOCABULARY

To quit = dejar, renunciar
To invest = invertir
Bond = bono
Whole = entero/a
To attend = asistir



26/02/2015Level - difficulty 2United StatesAudioVideo4 min