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The Second Conditional
The second conditional is also called the unreal conditional. We use it to talk about unreal situations in the present or future. I love this conditional because it allows us to talk about imaginary situations, which can be interesting and thought-provoking.
Lesson goals: Talk about things that are untrue or not possible in the present/future
Functions: Used to talk about imagined things (including advice and things we would like) and unlikely or impossible future events
Form: If-clause (condition) + result clause –> (Simple past) + (would + simple form) – *note, you can reverse the order
- Were is used for both singular and plural subjects. (was is sometimes used informally)
- Could can be used in place of would to express possible results or options. Might can also be used in place of would to express that something may or may not happen. There is more uncertainty if you use might. Espresso English explains the difference between could, would, and might in the second conditional a little more detail.
Second Conditional Examples and Explanation
If I had more money, I would buy a house. –> I don’t have more money, so it is not possible. I am imagining an unreal situation.
If I had more money, I could buy a house. –> I don’t have more money, but if I did, I would be able to buy a house.
If I were you, I would open a savings account. –> I am not you. This is unreal. It is also advice.
I would be sad if I had to leave Korea tomorrow. –> I will not have to leave Korea tomorrow. This will not happen. It is a very unlikely future event.
Hidden Camera: What Would YOU Do?
What Would YOU Do? is an American TV show that uses hidden cameras to see how ordinary people react to situations that require them to either take action or mind their own business (respect other’s privacy and not get involved in their conversations, lives, or problems).
Watching this short 8 minute TV show is a great way to hear the second conditional being used in context. Below, you’ll find a link to the video, discussion questions, and 19 vocabulary/expression defined so you can easily understand the content.
*Note: While living in Korea, I have noticed big differences in behavior related to people minding their own business and not interfering in other people’s business. Interfering in the lives of people you do not know is far less common in Korea than in the United States, so this might be rather unusual for some viewers.
Before watching the video, discuss the following:
- What kind of person would your parents not want you to marry?
- What do you think would happen if you chose to marry someone your parents did not want you to marry?
Vocabulary and Idioms You’ll Hear
spewing – in this case, it is referring to saying a large amount of negative things
exquisite – very beautiful
storm away – leave angrily
let’s face it – be honest, face reality, recognize the truth
compassionate – showing care and understanding
meddle – to interfere or try to change something that is not your business
break the news – to tell someone bad news
put down – insult, criticize
lighten up – relax, don’t be so serious, don’t be so disapproving
can’t bear – can’t stand, can’t tolerate, too upset to accept something
ambush – suddenly attack someone by surprise
empathize – to understand how someone feels
walk away – to stop being involved in a situation because it is difficult to deal with
shun – to ignore or not speak to someone because you disapprove of their behavior or beliefs
no offense – not meant to offend or insult – though usually the person is saying something unappealing or insulting
let’s cool you down – to make or become less excited or less emotional
scold – to speak to someone angrily because you disapprove of their behavior
it’s nothing against you – no reason to dislike you, it’s not personal or about you personally – though it is probably still hurtful or insulting
it worked out – there was a good outcome or result
While watching the video, listen for:
- Examples of relaxed speech. Try to identify 6-10 examples.
- What advice does the first customer give to the couple? What advice does he give to the parents?
- If the older woman’s daughter came home with somebody like Eric, how would she feel?
- What advice does the older woman give to Madison? What advice does she give to Eric?
- What advice does the last older woman give to Madison’s parents when they return?
You can watch the video on YouTube.
After watching the video and discussing the answers to the questions above, discuss the following:
- What advice would you give to Madison and Eric?
- What would you say to the parents?
More Second Conditional Study Materials
Additional online examples and practice exercises with answers can be found at the following websites:
- The University of Victoria’s English Language Center study zone.
- Espresso English explains the second conditional in a little more detail and has a 10 question quiz to test your accuracy.
- My English Pages explains all four conditional types: zero, one, two, and three. You’ll also find information on mixed conditionals if you are ready for that!