Conditionals 2 & 3 Explained

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Conditional 2 / Second Conditional

The second conditional is also known as the “unreal present and future conditional”. We use it to speak about situations in the present and future which have a low to zero possibility of happening. With the second conditional, you can talk about imaginary situations and share opinions by saying what you would do in a particular position. People often use this when giving advice, by saying, “If I were you, I would…” or “If I were in her shoes, I would…”

Construction of second conditional: If + simple past tense, would do. (If this happened, this would be the result). The result clause can also be used in the continuous form: if + simple present, would be doing.

*Note: It is more acceptable to use “were” instead of “was” as the verb to be, even in the singular first person. For example, it is more acceptable to say “If I were your man,” instead of “If I was your man.”

Examples:

Affirmative

“If I were the minister of finance, I would reduce all taxes by at least 5%.” – If clause [if + simple past] + result clause [would + root verb]. I am not the minister of finance, and chances are, I will probably never be. However, if were, this is what I would do. 

“If I had all the money in the world, I‘d build houses for all the homeless people in my city.” – If clause [if + simple past] + result clause [would + root verb]. I am just expressing a wish of mine. I do not have all the money in the world, but if I did, that’s what I would do with it.

“Tina said that she would date you if you were taller.” – Result clause [would + root verb] + if clause [if + simple past]. This is a polite way of saying that you are not tall enough for her, and that she is not interested in you. You are not taller, therefore she will not date you.

Negative

“If I were a dog, I wouldn’t eat bones.” – If clause [if + simple past] + result clause [would + root verb]. I am not a dog, and I will never be. However, if were, this is what I wouldn’t do. 

“If I didn’t trust you, I wouldn’t be sharing this story with you.” – If clause [if + simple past] + result clause [would + be + present participle]. I am sharing this story with you because I trust you. 

The second conditional can also be used to exaggerate.

Examples:

“If she were any smaller, she’d fit in a matchbox.” – If clause [if + simple past] + result clause [would + root verb]. This will obviously never happen because no human being is small enough to fit in a matchbox, but the exaggeration is used to emphasize how small she is.

“If your feet were bigger than this, you would wear cars as shoes.” – If clause [if + simple past] + result clause [would + root verb]. This will also never happen because it is impractical and impossible to wear a car as a shoe, and no human being has a foot big enough to fill an entire car.

 

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Conditional 3 / Third Conditional

The third conditional is also known as the “unreal past conditional”. It is used to comment on things that have already happened, and therefore cannot be changed. It refers to a probable result in the past, something that could have or would have happened, but it didn’t. One often uses the third conditional when they are not happy about something that happened in the past and are considering what might have happened, had circumstances been different.

Construction of third conditional: If + past perfect (had done), would have done. (If this had happened, this would have been the result). Another way of looking at it: (if + had + past participle, would have + past participle).

The result clause can also be used in the continuous form: if + past perfect, would have been doing.

Examples:

Affirmative

“If the bus had left earlier, it would have arrived on time.” – If clause [if + past perfect] + result clause [would have + past participle]. The bus did not leave earlier, so it did not arrive on time. This fact cannot be changed, one can only hypothesis about the possibility of other results, had the circumstances been different.

“I didn’t know that you loved Bruno Mars. If I had known, I would have given you the extra ticket to his concert.” – If clause [if + past perfect] + result clause [would have + past participle]. The concert is over and I didn’t give you the ticket. I am just telling you what would have happened if I had known about your interest in him.

“I’m sure they would have won the competition if they had sung a different song.” – Result clause [would have + past participle] + if clause [if + past perfect]. The competition is over, and they did not win it. This fact cannot be changed, I am just supposing that they would have won if they had chosen a different song.

Negative

“I wouldn’t have come to this party if I had known that you would be here.” – Result clause [would have + past participle] + if clause [if + past perfect]. I have already arrived at the party, that fact cannot be reversed. However, if I had known earlier that you were also going to attend, I would have gone somewhere else.

“If the pilot had chosen the correct autopilot sequence, the plane would not have crashed.” – If clause [if + past perfect] + result clause [would have + past participle]. The plane did crash, and this cannot be reversed. However, it is assumed that if the pilot had acted differently, the result would have been different.

 

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