Unit 11.2



Second Conditional

Syntax

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Introduction

A conditional sentence is usually composed by two parts: the if-clause (or conditional clause) that expresses the condition, and the main clause that expresses the consequence of that condition.

We use the second conditional to talk about situations that are impossible or unlikely to happen.

Form

The second conditional is a sentence created by two clauses, the if-clause (we can start the clause with if or when) and the main clause.

We use the past simple in the if-clause (although we are talking about a future condition), and the present conditional (would + infinitive) in the main clause.

The order of the sentences doesn’t change the meaning, therefore there are two ways of forming these expressions:

IF-CLAUSE (CONDITION) (,) MAIN CLAUSE (CONSEQUENCE)
If/When + Past Simple , Would + infinitive (without to)

or

MAIN CLAUSE (CONSEQUENCE) IF-CLAUSE (CONDITION)
Would + infinitive (without to) If/When + Past Simple

NOTE: We often use I were instead of I was, in the if-clause, only for the First Person Singular of the verb To Be.

Example

  1. Unreal/improbable present situations
    • If I were you, I would call him. (And NOT  If I was you, I would call him.)  
    • I would call him if I were you. 
    • If he knew about this organization, he would be part of it.
  2. Unreal future situations
    • If I felt well, I would go to the party.
    • I would go to the party if I felt well.
    • If they were believers, they would go to church on Sunday.

Use

We use the second conditional to talk about:

  1. Situations in the present which are unreal/improbable;
  2. Situations in the future that we think are unreal/unlikely to happen.

NOTE: The order of the sentences doesn’t change the meaning.

Summary

A conditional sentence is usually composed of two parts: the if-clause (or conditional clause) that expresses the condition, and the main clause that expresses the consequence of that condition.

We use a second conditional to talk about situations that are unlikely or impossible to happen.

The structure is:

We start with the word if or when followed by a past simple clause, a comma and a clause with would and a verb in its base form. We can also start the clause with would and a verb in its base form, followed by the word if or when followed by a past simple clause (we don’t use a comma here).

For example:
— “If/When I knew it, I would tell you the truth” / “I would tell you the truth if/when I knew it” = I don’t know the truth, otherwise I would tell you. The order of the sentence will not change its meaning. Neither will the use of if or when.
♦ If I know it, I will tell you the truth.” = If we use the first conditional the situation is not impossible to happen, since I don’t know the truth yet, but there is a possibility to know it in the future. The second part of the sentence is the possible result.

Let’s revise this content within the {Form} section. Take a look at the {Example} section that shows its use within a context.

Exercises


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