Grammar Reference

Second conditional

We use the second conditional in English when we want to talk about unreal situations or things we don’t think will happen. We use it to talk about the possible results of these situations. It is made like this:

if + past simple, … would + infinitive

Here are some examples:

If we all recycled more, there would be a lot less waste in the world.
If I lived by the sea, I’d go swimming every day.

A conditional sentence has two parts. The if part tells us about the unreal or unlikely situation. The would part tells us the possible results of this situation.

If I lived by the sea, … (This is the imaginary situation.)
… I’d go swimming every day. (This is the result of the imaginary situation.)

The two parts can come in any order. When the if part comes first in the sentence, we put a comma between the if part and the would part. You don’t use a comma when the would part comes first.

If I had more free time, I would be more relaxed.
I would be more relaxed if I had more free time.

We use the past simple in the if part – but second conditional sentences aren’t about the past. We use the past form to show that the situation isn’t real. The would part tells us the result of this imaginary situation.

We sometimes use were instead of was in the if part of a second conditional sentence. It means the same, but when we use were, the sentence sounds more formal.

If it were time to leave, I’d go.
We’d have lunch outside if it weren’t raining.