Second Conditional in English — Advanced English Grammar [Updated]
This lesson on the Second Conditional in English has been updated.
The original lesson on this topic was published in November 2015.
I know one of your goals is to add variety to your English when you speak, to use more advanced grammar, to understand others, and respond easily in English.
That’s why I’m doing this lesson on the Second Conditional in English.
With this lesson, you’ll learn to use the Second Conditional. This conditional form can be the most challenging because we use it to talk about hypothetical (unreal) situations or events.
But it’s important because we use it to:
- Give advice
- Talk about unlikely/impossible situations
- Imagine different future outcomes
- Express regret or wish for a different reality
Most English classes and grammar books teach you the basic rules of conditionals, such as: If + past simple + would + infinitive
And certainly, that can be useful. But it doesn’t help you understand how to really use conditionals in your daily English life. So let’s change that.
Don’t forget to review the other lessons in this series:
- Part 1: Zero and First Conditionals
How to Use the Second Conditional in English
If you completed the lesson on the First Conditional, then you know it is used in real situations/actions with a likely result. For example:
- We will pay 3% more if you complete the project by next week. = this is a likely possibility
But the Second Conditional is for UNREAL or UNLIKELY situations in the present or future time.
- If you completed this project by next week, we would pay 3% more. = it does not seem possible or likely that the company can complete the project by next week, so we won’t pay 3% more.
The use of “would” and the “past simple” change the meaning from REAL to UNREAL.
Using the Second Conditional for Unlikely & Impossible Situations
We use the Second Conditional to:
- say what is impossible or unlikely
- imagine a different present time or imagine a possible future time
- express that we wish for a different reality
This is where the Second Conditional can be confusing. We use it to talk about unlikely, impossible, hypothetical, or imaginary present/future situations. For example:
- I would exercise a lot more if I had time. (= I would like time to exercise more, but it isn’t likely that my schedule will change)
- If their company had a better reputation, we would consider them for the contract. Their creative marketing proposal was great, but I never hear anything good about working with them. (= but it is unlikely we will consider them for a contract)
- If I could, I would make conditional tenses disappear. (= but I can’t, it isn’t possible)
- My commute to work would be so much shorter if I didn’t live outside the city limits! (= but I don’t live in the city so a shorter commute is impossible)
For the workplace, let’s imagine a negotiation: Two sides are negotiating but one side is unable to compromise:
We would have to cut some of our staff if we reduced our costs by 10%. I’m sorry but we just can’t do that. (= Perhaps the company would like to reduce their costs but it is not possible unless they want to lose some of their staff.)
Using the Second Conditional to Give Advice
We often use this form to give advice, especially if we want to be polite or professional.
If I were you, I would …*
*Do you notice the use of were with I, not was? This is the correct form of the Second Conditional when giving advice!
- If I were you, I would be honest about what happened.
- If I were you, I would study a little bit every day. You’ll be more likely to succeed on the exam if you do.
- If I were you, I would tell them that we cannot negotiate on the costs – it just isn’t possible.
Using the Second Conditional for Conversation
Sometimes we use conditionals just for fun. No! I’m not joking.
We use conditionals to imagine something different. Maybe it’s a different future or something that is impossible. We even use these questions to get to know each other.
Here are some examples:
- If you were president, what is one law you would change?
- If you could go back to university, what would study?
- If you could change your career, what would you be?
- If you could travel anywhere in the world for a two-week vacation, where would you go?
Fun, right? 🙂
Grammar Structure Alternatives: Using Might and Could in the Second Conditional
Might or could can replace “would” in the second conditional. When these words are used, it can have a slight change of meaning:
- would = impossible or unlikely
- might = unlikely but possible
- could = ability (would be able to)
Let’s look at some examples: Let’s imagine a company. Perhaps they provide a service but customers usually have to wait a very long time to receive the service. Some people are having a discussion about the company and this problem of response times:
- If the company reduced its response times, they would have more customers. (= but it is unlikely that this will happen)
- If the company reduced its response times, they might have more customers. (= it is unlikely but possible)
- If the company reduced its response times, they could have more customers. (= they would be able to have more customers – this could be considered a suggestion or an idea to a problem. It still has the feeling that it is unlikely for anything to change, but it’s an option.)
Now I’d love to hear from you. Plus, you can get some practice and share your comments below for feedback.
I have three practice questions for you.
- If you had more free time, what would you do?
- If your friend at work made a huge mistake, what would you suggest?
- If your boss wanted you to work all weekend, what would you say?
As always, the best place to share is in the comments section below.
Have fun and enjoy your week. ~ Annemarie
P.S. If this lesson was useful to you, share the love! You can easily share on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Pinterest.
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Hi Iveta. Thank you for your examples. We’re glad to know the lesson was useful to you.
If that restaurant had quiet and peaceful music, I would consider going there.
If my friend at work made a huge mistake I would suggest to revise his work and find a solution. I would never take the opportunity to replace him . That’s could be not ethical at all.
If i had more time to travel , I would consider the idea to go around the world
If I had more income ,I would have a beautiful life , but you might be perhaps less happy than today or you could have more regrets.
If your friend at work made a huge mistake, what would you suggest
if you made the mistake you could re-do the work and you could learn from this mistake.
Thank you Annemarie for the helpful and amazing lessons.
If my friend at work made a huge mistake, I would advise the manager to check the working environment.
If I had more income, I would consider moving to Vancouver.
If you spoke English confidently, I would consider you for this job position.
If I had more free time ,I would definitely practice English more than ever.
If my friend at work made a huge mistake, I would advice them to take lesson from mistake and move on.
If my boss wanted you to work all weekend, I would say to pay overtime pay for me.
If I had more free time I would joing English classes .
I would also do preparations and do presentations.
Good evening Anne
I hope you doing well in this difficult time if pandemic.
Your lessons always inspire me ,it was useful as usual.
If my primary school teachers
taught me english grammar very well I would be far by now.
If my friend made a huge mistake at work I would advice her to go and see her superio and explain what had happened, aftet that he must humble herself and apologise .
If I have more free time, I would do more sport to get fit.
If my coworker made a huge mistake, I would advice her to apologize to the manager and to propose immediately something to sort out the situation.
If my boss asked me to work all weekend, I would accept only for extraordinary reasonreasons or urgent requirements.
Thank you Annemarie for this great lesson! Now it’s cristal clear!! 🥰
If I had more free time, I would spend it with my children. Before you knew it, they are all grown up and have a life of their own.
If my friend at work made a huge mistake, I would suggest that he would accept the blame , apologize, and make the best to correct it.
If my boss wanted me to work all weekend, I would love to do it for financial reasons. I only work during weekends though, that’s why.
If I had more free time. I would go for a long walk every single day.
If my friend at work made a huge mistake, I would advise him to talk to the manager in order to apologise and to fix the isssue. I would say to him, ” If I were you, I would talk to the manager immediately.”
I am really thankful for your support and lessons. Lessons are very useful for me of course.
If I had more free time, I would exercise to get fit.
If my colleague did a mistake, I would tell him ” if I were you, I would apologize for being clumsy”
If my boss asked me to work all the weekend, I could refuse.
Nicely done, Haifa. There’s one little change to make with the verb that we use with mistakes, “If my colleague ___ a mistake…” Can you identify the right verb to use here?
If we had more testers on this project, we might finish testing earlier .
If we had more resources we could have bid on more projects.
If I had a confidential information, I might report directly to my manager without sharing with anybody else.
If I had more free time I would read more books and would learn swimming. I would go to India to spend some time with my parents and eat lovely food prepared by my mom.
If I were you I would talk to the supervisor and would ask for the suggestion for fixing the issue.
If I worked in the weekend I would miss my family time and my kids would miss their scheduled Tennis practice/ tournaments. I am just not willing to do that. I am sorry, I hope you can find some alternatives and it goes well!
Wonderful, Sima! Great examples using the second conditional here.
Thanks again for your excellent Wednesday lesson.
Oh, I like your conversational question, Nasrin! That’s a good one. Excellent work with the second conditional here.
I love the easy form that you explain the topics.
I wish one day to have the opportunity to take the course in a Confident English.
Hi Thais, I’m glad my lessons are helpful to you!! We’d love to have you join a future course with us as well.
I am really grateful for your efforts to support us with weekly lessons.
they are helpful and I am enjoying watching them.
If the malls weren’t crowded on black Friday I could buy lots of things..
If I had more free time I would go swimming.
if my friend at work made a huge mistake I could help him to fix it.
Well done, Nada! We’re glad you found the lesson useful to you. I don’t go shopping on Black Friday because there are always so many people in the malls. I prefer local shops in a calm atmosphere.
I hope this email you fill well.
I wanted to ask you, what is the best way to speak better,
because I can see the I have problem to organize sentences and I’m speaking the same way.
Do you have a advice for me?
Thank you for your attention for this matter.
If I were you, I would be very satisfied and poud of the numbers of students eager to learn English.
The sentece is not what you asked for, but I couldn’t help it.
Have a nice evening, dear teacher!
I would join a choir If I hade more free time.
If I were you I would talk with your boss to find a right solution.
If you wanted me to work this weekend I would be free next week
Great job, Julia! And it’s so nice to hear from you. Thank you for sharing your examples.
If I could travel this holiday season, I would love to visit Cambridge and spend my time around the city, visit also London town and finally, with my Italian friends remembering our youth.
Thank you so much for this lesson
Great examples, Cinzia! And I totally with you on the first one. Visiting London is my dream that might come true one day after things go back to normal.
If I were you, I would study English with Annemarie.
If I had more free time, I would read a lot books.
Hi Regina, thank you for sharing your examples. Nice work! We’re glad the lessons was helpful for you!
if I was born again, I would study English from the age of two!
For someone who stars studying a language at an advance age like me it is a wonderful wonder to find your lessons and learn with you.
thanks a lot Annemarie!!
Great sentence example, Jesús! And I’m thrilled to know my lessons are helpful to you. ☺️
If I got rid of the headache till the evening I would go out. I’ve already taken few pills but the pain still doesn’t go away.
I like your lessons a lot.If i could back to highschool i would study language.
Excellent example, Somaiya!
And I’m happy to know you enjoy my lessons. Thank you!