Second Conditional Phrases.

This lesson explains how to use the second conditional. It is part of a complete B2 English course. The exercises for this topic are here.

If you want to revise other conditionals check out the zero, first and third conditionals. There is a presentation version of this material in the “materials” tab above.

What is the second conditional?

Second conditional phrases describe imaginary / hypothetical events and their imaginary consequences.

Imagine that an adult basketball player is quite short. Being tall is an advantage in basketball. The player might think

“If I were taller, I would be better at basketball.”

The player cannot grow taller, so this is an imaginary situation, not a realistic one.

How to form the second conditional

2nd conditional phrases are formed like this:

If + past simple / would + infinitive (without to)

The second conditional uses the subjunctive mood. In the subjunctive “were” is used for all persons in place of “was”.

“Would” can be substituted with other modal verbs such as “could”, “might” or “may”. Note that “would can” is not grammatical, “could” is the conditional form of “can”.

Examples of the second conditional

If I were you, I would be careful.1

If I had more money, I would buy a house.

If I saw a crime, I might call the police.2

I wouldn’t buy that guitar unless I could play really well.3

I could earn more money If I worked harder.4

  1. This example shows “were” used for the first person “I” instead of “was” in the subjunctive mood.
  2. This examples shows the use of “might” used in place of “would” as an alternative modal verb.
  3. This example substitutes “if” with “unless”, meaning “if not”.
  4. This example shows that the two clauses (If… & would..) can be inverted with no change in meaning.

What is the difference between the second conditional and other conditionals?

The 2nd conditional and third conditional refer to imaginary or hypothetical situations. The second conditional describes imaginary present and future situations, the third conditional describes imaginary / hypothetical situations in the past.

0 / zero conditionalif + present / presentThings that are always true.If students don’t study they don’t learn.
1st / first conditionalif + present / will + infinitive without “to”Probable situations & their consequencesIf I go to the shop I will buy some milk.
2nd / second conditionalif + past / would + infinitive without “to”Imaginary / hypothetical present & future situations & their consequences.If I saw a monster I would be afraid.
3rd / third conditionalIf + past perfect / would + have + past participleImaginary / hypothetical past situations & their consequences in the past.If I hadn’t drunk coffee before I went to bed last night I would have slept better.

Mixed Conditionals

2nd and 3rd Conditionals can be mixed.

“If I were more confident I would have got the job.”1

“If I had got better exam results when I was a teenager I would earn more now.”2

1 This sentence starts with the 2nd conditional for an imaginary present state and ends with an imaginary past event that is a consequence of not being more confident.

2 This sentence starts with an imaginary past event using the 3rd conditional form and


Check that you understand this topic with these interactive exercises.