Second Conditional – unreal conditionals

Second and third conditionals – Unreal conditionals

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Normally Conditional sentences have two parts (clauses)

One part (clause) which usually starts with “if” gives a condition, the other part gives us a result if that condition is true.


  • If it rained (conditional clause) I would take an umbrella (result clause)

There can be real and unreal conditions, possible and impossible conditions.

The Real conditionals are classified into:

  • Zero ConditionalIf you heat water to 100º, it boils
  • First (1st) Conditionals – If it’s a nice day, I will go to the beach

These are real conditionals because if the conditional clause is met the result is certain.  Go to First conditionals and real conditionals here 

The Unreal conditionals are classified into:

  • Second conditionals – If I had more money, I would change my car .. (I don’t have more money so I can’t change my car)
  • Third Conditionals – If Mary had studied harder she would have passed her exams ……… (she didn’t study hard enough so she didn’t pass her exams.)

These are unreal conditionals because they refer to situations that are untrue, impossible or hypothetical. The third conditional for example refers to a situation that is past and is impossible to change.

The Second Conditional is used for unreal conditional sentences

Second Conditional sentences refer to present or future time and use this form:

  • If + subject + past + complement, subject + would (‘d) + verb + complement OR
  • Subject + would (‘d) + verb + complement if + subject + past + complement.

NOTE: the verb is a past form but not does NOT refer to past time. The past verb is used to give a sense of unreality, a hypothetical situation for the present or future times.


  • If I were rich, I’d take four long holidays a year. / I’d take four long holidays a year if I were rich. (Reality= I’m not rich, so I can’t take four long holidays a year)
  • If your father were here now, he’d show you how to repair your bike. / Your father would show you how to repair your bike if he were here now.  (Reality= He isn’t here now, so he can’t show you how to repair it)
  • If I won a big prize on the lottery, I’d buy a big house./I’d buy a big house if I won a big prize on the lottery.  (Reality= It’s improbable that I will win a big prize on the lottery, so I can’t buy a big house)
  • If Fred studied harder, he would get a place at a top university./ Fred would get a place at a top university if  he studied harder.  (Reality= I don’t think that Fred is going to study harder)
  • If you weren’t so slow, you would play for a top team./ You would play for top team if you weren’t so slow.  (Reality= You are slow, so you won’t get a place in a top team)
  • If he didn’t watch so much TV, he wouldn’t get so many headaches./ He wouldn’t get so many headaches if he didn’t watch so much TV. (Reality= he watches a lot of TV and he gets a lot of headaches)
  • If someone offered you a job in another country, would you accept it?/ Would you accept a job in another country if you someone offered you one?  (Reality= In the imaginary situation that someone offers you a job ……)

 Test your knowledge of all conditionals here


          When we use the verb BE in the conditional clause we use WERE except in more informal, usually spoken, English when we can use WAS.

  • If I were you, I would buy a new car
  • Come on John, your car is dangerous! If I was you, I’d buy another one as quickly as possible


          An alternative to WOULD in the result clause is COULD or MIGHT

  • If you got a pay rise, you could buy a new car.
  • If we arrived home on time, we MIGHT go to the party.


          WOULD in the sense of being WILLING to do something can be an alternative in the conditional clause

  • If he would train better, he would play more regularly in the team (he doesn’t appear to be willing to train harder, so he won’t be selected for the team)
  • If she would get up earlier, she would have time to have breakfast before going to work (she doesn’t appear to be willing to get up earlier, so she goes to work without eating)

          Would in the conditional clause is not possible if it doesn’t refer to willingness

  • o    If I would be young, I would go running every day  (Strange – it’s impossible to be “willing” to be young!)
  • o    If he would have more work, he would get more money (strange)

Go to more lessons on CONDITIONALS here

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