Second Conditional: What Does It Mean & How To Use It?

Second conditional! Conditionals are commonly referred to as “if clauses”. They are used to describe hypothetical situations and the “conditions” that require these situations to occur. There are four types of conditionals in total and each one is slightly different to the previous but all four are used to describe the conditions that require something to happen. The following article will introduce how does the second conditional work with many useful examples.

What Does Second Conditional Mean?

Where first conditional is used to describe future hypotheticals that could come true, the second conditional is used for present or future hypotheticals that are far more unlikely. In it’s simplest form, the rule for applying the second conditional is as follows: If + simple past tense, …would + infinitive. These sentences use if and simple past tense (was, were) usually combined with a would or wouldn’t and a base verb to form a hypothetical scenario. Let’s break the formula down bit by bit.

How to Use Second Conditional?

Where the zero and the first conditional uses simple present tense, the key difference with the second conditional is that is uses simple past tense. This includes verbs like waswerewasn’t. For example:

  • If I was taller, I would ride the rollercoaster.
  • If things were quieter, I would close the shop.

These are situations that are either unlikely, or impossible. The simple past tense at the beginning of the sentences can be a verb instead:

  • If I walked faster, I would be on time.
  • If I played more guitar, I would perform.

The simple past tense here is highlighted in bold. The most important part of the second conditional is that it uses simple past tense.

To explain further, if the clause had said:

  • If I play more guitar, I will perform,

then the situation suddenly becomes more possible. In the second conditional, the past tense replaces the present tense and forms a far less likely scenario.

Though most second conditionals contain the word “would”, this doesn’t have to be the case. Could, might & may all serve the same purpose.

  • If she did her homework, she may pass the test
  • If he ate less chocolate, he could lose weight

The negative forms of these verbs can also be employed:

  • If I were you, I wouldn’t do that.

The final part of the sentence usually ends with an infinitive; an infinitive is a verb that, in this case, functions in order to fulfil the purpose of an action. In the examples above, the infinitives are “ride”, “close” & “perform”. These infinitives fulfil the purpose of the first clause. To put it simpler, the second clause should include a base verb to complete the conditional.

The second conditional can work just as well in reverse form: Would + infinitive, …if + simple past tense. For example,

  • He would ride the rollercoaster, if he was taller
  • I wouldn’t do that if I were you

To recap, the most important part of the conditional is that it contains the condition and the consequence of that condition. The second conditional uses simple past tense to create a less likely consequence to the condition. Just make sure you always refer back to the base formula: If + simple past tense, …would + infinitive/base verb.

Second Conditional | Infographic

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