If: The 2nd Conditional

1. What is the 2nd conditional?

The 2nd conditional is an ‘if’ phrase for hypotheticals.

This means it is for things you can imagine, but are not true.

It uses the words ‘would’ or ‘could’.

2. How to make the 2nd conditional

The 2nd conditional is made by:

  • if clause (if + past tense) + would/could clause (would/could + base verb)

Although it is a hypothetical, the ‘if’ clause looks like a past tense.

*The base verb is the verb in its simplest form, with no ‘to’, ‘ing’, or past tense ending.

‘If’ clause
(past tense)
Would/could clause
(would/could + base verb)
Example sentence
If I won $1mI would buy a boatIf I won $1m, I would buy a boat.
If I were youI would not goIf I were you, I would not go.
If she saw him do thatshe would kill himIf she saw him do that, she would kill him.
If Peter was the bossthe company would have gone bankruptIf Peter was the boss, the company would have gone bankrupt long ago.

The ‘if’ clause can be placed at the start or at the end.

‘If’ clause at start‘If’ clause at end
If I won $1m, I would buy a boat.I would buy a boat if I won $1m.
If she saw him do that, she would kill him.She would kill him if she saw him do that.

3. Overlap between 1st conditional and 2nd conditional

The 1st conditional is for cause and effect (x will make y).
The 2nd conditional is for hypotheticals (imagine x and how it makes y).

The meanings of the 1st conditional and the 2nd conditional are very close. Often either can be used.

1st conditional2nd conditional
If he asks her to marry him, she will say yes.If he asked her to marry him, she would say yes.
I won’t be surprised if Brazil win the World Cup.I wouldn’t be surprised if Brazil won the World Cup.

4. Exercises

1. Complete the sentences:
(i) If I found a wallet in the street, I would….
(ii) If I met Spiderman, I would…
(iii) I would run away very very fast if…..

2. Answer these questions with the 2nd conditional:
(i) What would you do if you had $10m?
(ii) Who would you invite to dinner if you could invite anyone living or dead?
(iii) What would be the first law you made or changed if you were President?