How to use second conditional in English

In this series of video lessons on English conditional sentences, we've already looked at the zero and first conditional. This video lesson will show you how to talk about unreal or hypothetical situations using the second conditional.


Hi everyone, in this video lesson we're going to look at the second conditional. This is a sentence we use to describe unreal situations in the present and future. So these are things that are very unlikely, things that probably won't happen. This is a very common and a very useful structure in English as we often talk about things which are not real. Maybe things that we would like to change in our lives but we can't. We'll look at how we form the second conditional and we'll also look at some examples to see how we use the second conditional. Finally, we'll do a little practice at the end to see how much you've learnt.

OK, firstly let's start by looking at a very simple and a very common example when talking about unreal situations in the present and the future. "If I won the lottery, I would travel around the world". Is this a real or an unreal situation? It's unreal, right? At best, it's very, very unlikely. The chances of winning the lottery and becoming a multimillionaire are very unlikely - unfortunately! So in this case, we're not talking about a real situation. This is an unreal or hypothetical situation. So for this reason we don't use the present tense in a second conditional sentence. What happens to the verb is it backshifts. So even though we're talking about the present or the future, we don't use the present tense. The verb backshifts to the past tense. So we don't say: 'If I win the lottery', we say 'If I won the lottery'. We use the past tense because we're talking about a situation which is not real. It's an unreal, a hypothetical situation. "If I won the lottery, I would travel around the world".

So let's look at the form of the second conditional. How do we write, how do we structure a second conditional sentence? 'If' plus the past tense, and in the main clause 'would' plus the bare infinitive. For example: 'If I won..., I would...' 'If I won the lottery, I would travel around the world'. As with other conditional sentences, you can change the position of the 'if' clause and the main clause. So you can start with the main clause and then put the 'if' clause after the main clause, but in this case, there's no comma! 'I would travel around the world if I won the lottery'.

OK, that's quite straightforward I hope. Not too complicated! So we're going to do some practice now and we're going to practise the second conditional structure by making a second conditional chain. This means I'm going to say a sentence and the next sentence needs to continue from the last sentence. So you need to listen for the verb in the main clause and use that verb in the 'if' clause in the next sentence. Here we go...

If I travelled around the world...

So you can now carry on the chain with your friends. You can carry on the chain in the comments below. See how long you can keep this chain going. This is a really good way to practise the form of the second conditional, which makes it much, much easier for you to remember and for you to use yourself. You can make the story as long as you want and as funny as possible as well. Be creative! Just make sure you get the form of the second conditional right. OK, I hope that's clear. If it's not so clear, then go back and watch the video again. The second time it'll be much easier. The advantage of a video lesson is you can watch it as many times as you want!

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