Grammar is the way that words are organized into sentences. In this lesson, I explain how words are organized in a sentence to form the 2nd (second) conditional sentence structure.
Conditional is a name used in grammar textbooks for a category of sentence structures. This category of sentences all use the conjunction if. Conditional means that something is true, or something will happen, if something else happens first.
If is a conjunction. A conjunction joins two sentences or two clauses together. There are two parts to a conditional sentence: the if-clause and the result-clause.
The 2nd (second) conditional sentence structure is called the present unreal conditional or hypothetical conditional.
You are imagining that the present, right now, is different than it really is. Think of it as daydreaming. You can use this sentence structure to express that you wish your present situation, or someone else’s present situation, is different. If the present were different (if-clause), this would happen (result-clause).
You can also use this sentence structure to imagine a situation that is unlikely or impossible in the present.
The 2nd Conditional Form:
If + simple past, would + verb
“If I were you, I would look for a new job.”
I am not you, but I imagining that I am you. This is what I would do if I were you.
Yes, I just used the subject-verb I were. This is not the simple past form of the verb be. That’s OK! It is correct in this sentence structure. It’s a verb form left over from an older form of English. You can use was, but it is very informal and some people think it’s wrong. If you’re not sure, use were.
Also, subject + would is often contracted in spoken and written English: I’d, you’d, she’d, he’d, we’d, they’d.
You can change the position of both clauses. Separate the clauses with a comma if you use the if-clause first. You don’t need a comma if the result-clause is first:
I would look for a new job If I were you.
A different reality
If I were president, I would cut taxes.
Am I the president? No. Can I cut taxes? No. I am imagining what I would do if I were the president!
If I lived near a train station, I wouldn’t need a car.
Do I live near a train station? No. Do I need a car? Yes.
If I lived in a big city like London, I would go out every night!
Do I live in a big city? No. Do I live in London? No. I am imagining what I would if I lived in London.
“If I were you, I would … “
This sentence structure is commonly used to give and ask for advice.
If I were you, I wouldn’t tell anyone about this.
If I were you, I would buy the red dress instead of the blue dress.
What would you do if you were me?
When you are giving advice, you can leave out if I were you, and just say what you would do:
I wouldn’t worry about it.
I would call him.
I would wear the black dress.
This is a fun thing to do with friends. You imagine what you would do in certain situations.
If you won the lottery, what would you do with the money?
If you had only one day to live, what would you do?
What would you do if you didn’t have to work?
Talking about other people
Children would be healthier if they spent more time exercising and less time playing videos games!
He’d have more time to spend with his kids if he worked less!
She would be skinnier if she didn’t eat so much!
Peter would be healthier if he didn’t smoke.
If my grandmother were alive today, she would be 107!
Silly Interview Questions
No, really. These silly questions are sometimes asked in job interviews.
If you were an animal, what would you be?
If you were a type of fruit, what fruit would you be?
If you were a movie character, which character would you be?
You can use the past continuous tense in the if-clause…
If I were looking for a white rabbit, I’d ask the Mad Hatter.
from the well-known children’s book Alice in Wonderland
If I were walking alone at night in this city, I’d be scared!
…and the future continuous with would in the result-clause, although it is not very common and I struggled to think of example sentences!
If I had a lot of money, I would be thinking about it all the time.
If I didn’t for work an American company, I wouldn’t be learning German.
We wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t care about you!
You can use could in the if-clause to talk about someone’s ability. It means be able to. Remember, when you use the modal verb here, the if-clause is not in the past tense.
If I could go back in time and give myself advice, I’d tell myself not to worry so much about what other people think.
It would be great if you could help us paint the house this weekend!
If I could read her mind, I’d know exactly what to buy her for Christmas!
Learn more: English Grammar: “If you could … ?”
…or in the result clause, where it means would be able to.
If I had a map, I could find their house.
If we had more money, we could renovate the bathroom.
If I had my own house, I could have as many pets as I wanted!
You can use might in the result-clause, where it means unlikely but possible.
If I knew how to swim, I might compete in a triathlon.
If I won the lottery, I might donate some of the money to charity.
If you attended more meetings at work, you might know what’s going on!
Learning English with Music
The 2nd conditional sentence structure is a popular structure used in songs! There are three popular pop songs that use the 2nd conditional. I have included links to the videos on YouTube.
- “If I Were a Boy” – Beyonce
- “If You Had my Love” – Jennifer Lopez
- “If I Was a Rich Girl” – Gwen Stefani and Eve
- “If I Had a Million Dollars” – The Barenaked Ladies
If there are no lyrics (words) in the description, google “< name of song > lyrics.”