English Grammar

Second conditional in English Grammar with illustrations

Second conditional

The second conditional expresses unreal, improbable or hypothetical situations in the present . As a consequence, what has been said is unlikely to happen. It is a subjective conditional that depends on the point of view of the speaker. It also serves to give a council. Second conditional in English Grammar

Conditionals in English can be difficult to understand, but with practice you will learn to use them correctly. That is why we leave you this lesson where you will discover how and when to use the second conditional .

What is the second conditional for in English?

Unlike the first conditional that expresses what would happen in a real situation, in the second conditional we will refer to situations that are NOT real . It indicates the consequences or the possible consequences of a hypothetical situation.

Therefore, the main use that we give to the second conditional is to express an unreal or hypothetical situation . Suppose you do not have a lot of money (real situation), but you would like to ask what you would do if you had a lot of money (hypothesis), then you would say the following:

  • If I had a million dollars, I would buy an enormous yacht.

Another way to use this conditional is to give advice to others ,

  • If I were you, I would ask a good lawyer for some advice.

Structure of the second conditional

The structure of the second conditional is made up of two parts: The sentence with “If” and the sentence that expresses the result .

Sentence with “If: Take the verb in the past simple . In case of carrying the verb “to be”, then use the form “were”.

If + subject + simple past verb + object

Result sentence: It has the auxiliary verb “would” and the verb in its base form (in the infinitive without the “to”). Sometimes “could” or “might” can be used to express the possibility of something happening. The negation is formed with wouldn’t. Second conditional in English Grammar

Subject + would + infinitive verb without the “to” + object

This is what the general structure of a sentence of the second conditional would look like:

If + subject + simple past verb, subject + would + infinitive verb without the “to”.

It can also be expressed by removing the comma and putting the conditional sentence first, like this:

Subject + would + infinitive verb + If + subject + simple past tense.


  • If he worked as an actor , he wouldn’t live in this small town
  • If they visited us more often, we would be better neighbors.
  • She would have less problems If she were more tolerant.

To ask questions we use this structure:

Would + subject + infinitive without “to” + If + subject + simple past verb?


  • Would you marry him if he asked you?
  • Would you mind if I gived you a hug?
  • Would she like you if she were your editor in chief?
  • Would he hurt your feelings if he didn’t give you a kiss?

When “could” and “might” replace “would”

You can use the verbs “could” and “might” in place of “would . ” Sometimes when you make a hypothesis, the consequence is not always the same. There are several answer options and you are the one who decides. In these cases, “could” very well replaces “would.”

On the other hand, you may not have a clear answer to a situation, so you need a word that expresses possibility but not definitively. For this it is better to use “migth”.


  • could move to Europe if I won the lottery.
  • If Donald danced at the party, Mary might dance too.

 “Unless” replacing “If”

Likewise, it is possible to replace “If” by “Unless” (unless) in this type of conditional . It is as if we were saying “If… not”. The only detail is that you must adapt the phrase to the negative meaning that the word “Unless” has.


  • wouldn’t go to that concert unless you paid me well.
  • wouldn’t go to that concert if you didn’t pay me well.

In the phrase that includes “unless”, the sentence is adapted to the negative context that this word conveys.

Verb “to be” in the second conditional

The verb “to be” is used with the second conditional. If it appears in the “If” sentence, you must use “were” in all cases , regardless of the pronoun you are using. So the “was” form is not supported.

Some natives may use “was”, but this is a grammatical error. The reason is that it is the subjunctive mood in English , used in this case to talk about an unreal situation. Second conditional in English Grammar


  • If I were more worried about the school, I would have best grades.
  • If you were more careful, you wouldn’t make so many mistakes.
  • If I were you, I would go to Curazao.
  • If she were my girlfriend, I would visit her every day.

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