Second Conditional

How do we form the second conditional?

If + past + would + verb


Second conditional is used in situations/actions in the present or future which are not likely to happen or are imaginary, hypothetical or impossible.

  • If I won the lottery, I would travel around the world and buy a castle.

I think it is very unlikely that I will win the lottery. However, in this unlikely condition, I will travel and buy a castle.

  • If I wasn’t watching TV now, I would be playing football.

I am watching TV, but I am imagining an alternative activity I would be doing if I wasn’t watching TV.

  • If I were an alien, I would be able to travel around the universe.

It is impossible for me to be an alien. However, I am imagining what I would do in this situation

Additional points

Other modal verbs can be used in place of would:

  • If I had more money, I could buy a car.

Buying a car would be possible.

  • If I won the lottery, I might give all the money to charity.

Giving the money to charity is only a possibility.

Related grammar points

Zero conditional
First conditional
Third conditional

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  1. The easiest (and probably most used) example is the lottery…

    Start off by asking students about the lotto in their country. You could even make the whole lesson themed around this, maybe with a text about the lottery to start off for some reading comprehension. (Do a search for “lottery” on the internet and you’ll find plenty of news stories about people who’ve won big).

    Next, ask students what they would do if they won the lottery. Don’t worry about correct form in their answers at this stage – the important thing is that they get the gist of the question (I’m yet to meet a student who hasn’t understood the gist of “If you won the lottery, what would you do?”) Develop some of their answers, maybe making another question out of it: “Oh, so if you bought a new car, what kind of car would you buy?”

    After a time, ask them if they think they are going to win the lottery in the future, or if it’s just imagination. Most, hopefully, will say it’s just imagination, it’s extremely unlikely they’ll ever win.

    Now, highlight the form on the board, and then ask them some other examples:

    “If you lived on Mars, what would you eat?” “If you were an animal, which animal would you be?” etc

    This time, make sure they answer with the correct form.

    Then, have them think of five questions to ask their partner. By making them form their own questions, you are making sure that they understand we’re talking about the future, and about hypothetical situations.

    A board game with second conditional questions works well for some freer practice in groups.

  2. Listen to the song “If I had a million dollars” by the Barenaked Ladies. It’s full of second conditional. Do a gap fill as you listen to it.

  3. When students have grasped the structure, it’s fun to play “Crazy Sentences”. In this game, the class is divided in two. Half write one part of the conditional sentence (the “if” part). The other half write the second part on separate slips of paper. You gather the slips (maintaining the groups) in two bags or hats. One by one each student takes a pair and reads aloud the “crazy sentence”. Some examples are:

    “If I had a dog, I would give it to charity.”
    If I travelled to Mars, I would buy twenty pairs of shoes.”

    It brings lots of fun to the classroom and can be played using other grammar structures.

  4. You can ask your students to do a questionnaire about funny (imaginary) situations and give them a,b,c options.

    For example: If you knew your sister’s most important secret, would you…
    a. tell everybody
    b. keep it a secret
    c. ask her for money to keep it a secret

    Students like this kind of activity! Good luck!

  5. I use “Into My Arms” by Nick Cave. Hand out the lyrics with gaps in it for the students to fill in. Get them to listen to the song and go through the lyrics. They understand the conditional quickly because the song explains the unreality of the situation very well.

  6. You can use “If I were a boy” by Beyonce… it’s full of second conditional!

  7. If your class is a good level, a good song challenge is Gwen Stefani’s “If I were a rich girl” – erase all verbs and they can spend ten minutes predicting, then listening twice. I always include a few culture questions at the end too, like where is Harajuku and why are the girls famous? (if you don’t know, google image harajuku and you’ll get some great visuals to explain the answer). Also, good vocab like clean out, mansion, fancy

    • Wow

  8. I start my lesson with a reading from Harry Potter. I then proceed to ask questions like:

    What would you do:

    if you were invisible?
    if you could cast spells?
    if you could fly?
    if you had magical powers?

    I end the lesson with students writing a composition about any of these fantasies.

  9. I record other teachers answering the following question:

    “what would you do if you won a lottery of one thousand million dollars?”

    I play it in my class and ask them if they know who the speakers are. Then, I give them a hat full of 2nd conditional topics and ask them to pass it around while I play music. I then stop the music and ask them to pick a topic and speak about it. My students love this lesson!

  10. I teach 2nd Conditional by explaining it as the “Aladdin Conditional”. Aladdin has a magic lamp with a genie in it, who can do anything in the present. So he rubs the lamp when he has a problem and the genie appears.

    You can ask questions like:

    “What would Aladdin do if he was rich?”
    “He would buy Jasmine a new house.”

    This sets up the 2nd conditional as being COUNTER-FACTIVE and UNLIKELY, but not IMPOSSIBLE (if you have a genie).

    This explanation transitions very nicely to the 3rd conditional, where you can explain that not even a genie has the power to change the past. For that you need a TIME MACHINE. It works really well, and it is more memorable than using the number system of naming them.


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