First, read about second conditionals (below). Then, when you are ready, try these second conditional practice exercises.
Using second conditionals
We use the second conditional to talk about imagined present/future situations and their imagined results.
If I had more time, I'd learn Japanese.
Careful! The first half looks like the past simple, but it is used to mean an imaginary situation, now or in the future. To imagine the result, use would + verb.
We often use this form to give advice:
You look ill! If I were you, I'd go to bed.
You can also use it to talk about hypothetical solutions to problems:
If we spent more money on education, crime rates would go down.
Sometimes it's fun to just imagine a different life!
If I was a cat, I'd sleep all day!
How to make the second conditional
If + past simple (for the imaginary situation), would(n't) + verb (for the imaginary result)
If it was free, I'd go the gym.
It doesn't matter if you say the situation or the result first.
I'd go to the gym if it was free
= If it was free, I'd go to the gym.
With I, he, she and it you can say was or were. In traditional grammar, were is considered correct. In normal conversation were can sound more formal. Was is more common in informal British English.
If it was/were warmer, we would go to the beach.
First or second conditional?
Compare the first conditional with the second conditional:
If I win the lottery, I'll buy you a present. (first)
If I won the lottery, I'd buy a castle. (second)
In the first example, the speaker buys lottery tickets, and is hopeful of winning (they think it's a real, future possibility). In the second, the speaker is just having fun imagining it.
Second conditional: advanced points
You can use the past simple (for present states or future actions) or continuous (for actions in progress) to talk about imaginary situations. You can use would, might and could to talk about the result of these situations.
An imaginary situation:
- If I liked my job ... (a present state, past simple)
- If I was enjoying this job ... (an action in progress, past continuous)
- If I found a better job ... (a future action, past simple)
... with an imaginary result:
- ... I would work harder. (a definite result)
- ... I might work harder. (a possible result)
- ... I could work harder. (an ability)
Reality: I don't like my job, so I don't work hard.
Now try these second conditional practice exercises.