The second conditional

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The second conditional

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If you need more explanation about the second conditional, just give us six minutes of your time and we can help! Rob and Catherine are here to explain how to form it, how to use it and how to say it.

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Rob
Hello. Welcome to 6 Minute Grammar with me, Rob.

Catherine
And me, Catherine. Hello. This programme is all about the second conditional.

Rob Yes the second conditional. We’ll see how to form it…

Catherine We’ll look at why and when we use it…

Rob
There’ll be a very helpful pronunciation tip…

Catherine
And there’ll be a second conditional quiz at the end of the show, so listen carefully!

Rob
Let’s start by looking at why and when we use the second conditional. The main use of the second conditional is to talk about impossible, unlikely or imaginary situations. And here’s an example to do with football. Catherine, are you a football fan?

Catherine Err… I like to watch the big games, the internationals, the England games in particular - I do like an England game.

Rob Yes, they haven’t won for a long time…

Catherine Not since ‘66, I think…

Rob ‘66 was a long time ago, but maybe they’ll win one day…

Catherine Maybe!

Rob But at the moment it’s just a dream; not a strong possibility. So Mike’s here: let’s have a second conditional sentence about that situation Mike:

Mike
If England won the World Cup, Catherine would be so happy.

Rob
If England won the World Cup, Catherine would be so happy. Catherine, is that true?

Catherine
It is, actually, I’d be very happy. Unlikely, but, I’d be happy. So: this is a second conditional sentence and it is made of two parts. The first part starts with the word if, plus a subject and a past simple verb , and it describes an unlikely or imaginary situation, like this:

Mike
If England won the World Cup…

Catherine
Thanks Mike. And the second part of the sentence has the word would or the negative woudn ‘t with an infinitive verb . It describes a possible result of the unlikely or imaginary situation.

Mike
…Catherine would be so happy.

Rob
That’s the result of the imaginary situation. And yes, If England won the World Cup, we would be very happy, wouldn’t we, Catherine?

Catherine
We would!

Rob
Good. Now, we can change the order of the two parts, and the meaning stays the same:

Mike
We’d be so happy if England won the World Cup.

Catherine
Right, thanks Mike. Let’s have some more examples.

Mike If Sunny had more money, he’d get a better phone.

I wouldn’t see you very often if I lived in the city.

Maria would have a better job if she spoke more English.

If I were you, I’d take a holiday.

Rob
Thanks: lots of examples there. And the last one is particularly interesting: If I were you, I ‘d take a holiday . And of course this isn’t a real situation, because I can’t be you, can I?

Catherine
You can’t be anybody Rob, except yourself, just you: we’re stuck with you.

Rob
You’re stuck with me, yes: I’m afraid so. Anyway, we say a second conditional sentence starting with the words If I were you when we want to give someone some advice. And here the advice is to go on holiday.

Catherine
It’s interesting that a lot of native speakers say If I were you , not if I was you .

Rob
And if I were you, I’d go somewhere nice and hot with palm trees and sandy beaches. Mmm.

IDENT
6 Minute Grammar, from BBC Learning English.

Rob
And we’re talking about second conditionals.

Catherine
Now for a word about pronunciation. Contractions or short forms - are very common in second conditionals - but they can sometimes be difficult to hear.

Rob
Yes, that’s a good point. In the last example, the two words I and would become I ‘d . I ‘d take a holiday.

Catherine
So would is shortened to just a /d/ sound. Listen out for the short /d/ sound in this next example:

Mike
If I knew the answer, I ‘d tell you.

Catherine
Yes, the phrase I would tell becomes I ‘d tell . One more time please Mike:

Mike
If I knew the answer, I ‘d tell you.

Rob
Well, wherever you are, I hope you know the answers to the quiz. It’s coming up next!

Catherine
Yes, it’s quiz time! Choose the correct word or phrase to fill each gap. Here’s the first one. If you [beep] some money on the street, what would you do? Is the missing word a) find b) found or c) would find?

Rob
And the answer is b): If you found £50 on the street, what would you do?

Catherine
Another one: If you forgot your wife’s birthday what [beep] she do? Is it a) does, b) will or c) would?

Rob
So the answer is c): If you forgot your wife’s birthday what would she do? I wonder what she ‘d do…

Catherine
And the last one: I wouldn’t eat that if I [beep] you. Is it a) am b) were or c) be?

Rob
And its b): I wouldn’t eat that if I were you. Well done if you got all those right.

So we’ve been talking about the second conditional. It’s made of if plus the past simple tense, and would plus the infinitive . We use it to talk about imaginary situations and their results.

Catherine
There’s more about this on our website at bbclearningenglish.com. Join us again soon for more 6 Minute Grammar.

Both
Bye.

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