Second Conditional

The second conditional (also called conditional type 2) is a structure used for talking about unreal situations in the present or in the future. This page will explain how the second conditional is formed, and when to use it.

The structure of a second conditional sentence

Like a first conditional, a second conditional sentence consists of two clauses, an "if" clause and a main clause:

if clause
main clause
If I had a million dollars,
I would buy a big house.

If the "if" clause comes first, a comma is usually used. If the "if" clause comes second, there is no need for a comma:

main clause
if clause
I would buy a big house
if I had a million dollars.

We use different verb forms in each part of a second conditional:

if clause
if + subject + simple past verb*
main clause
subject + would + verb

*Note that this "simple past" form is slightly different from usual in the case of the verb BE. Whatever the subject, the verb form is "were", not "was": If I were rich, I'd buy a big house.

Using the second conditional

The second conditional is used to talk about things which are unreal (not true or not possible) in the present or the future -- things which don't or won't happen:

If I were you, I would drive more carefully in the rain.
I am not you -- this is unreal.
Paula would be sad if Jan left.
Jan will not leave -- that's not going to happen.
If dogs had wings, they would be able to fly.
Dogs don't have wings -- that's impossible.