Welcome back to the second part of CISL’s four-part “Grammar Lesson of the Month” series! April is all about conditionals at CISL, and each week, we are offering a lesson on one of the four types of conditionals. Last week, we began with the most simple of the four: the First Conditional. Need to refresh yourself on this conditional and how it works? Check out the lesson here!

Today we are focusing on the Second Conditional. Unlike the First Conditional, which focuses on real events and future plans, the Second Conditional is used for things that probably will not happen, like winning the lottery or meeting your favorite celebrity. We use the Second Conditional to dream.


Second Conditional

[if + subject + SIMPLE PAST verb] + [subject + might/could/would + base verb]


The Second Conditional looks like the First Conditional: both use the “if/then” structure, and the Second Conditional uses words like “would, could, or might” where the First Conditional uses words like “will, shall, and may.” But don’t be fooled! That is where the similarities end.

The  biggest difference between the Second Conditional and the First Conditional  is that the Second Conditional talks about events that are not real possibilities. In many examples, these are things that could happen: there is a possibility, but realistically, they are not things that will happen. That is why we often use the Second Conditional to talk about dreams and fantasies, like winning the lottery:

  • If I had a million dollars, I might buy a really expensive car.
  • If I lived on the beach, I would go swimming every day!
  • If I became president, I could meet a lot of famous world leaders. 
Notice how each of these things are not entirely impossible: someone wins the lottery every day! And someone is always president, and some people live on the beach… so we know that there are possibilities of these things happening. But how likely are these things to happen? The chances are very low that anyone will win the lottery or become president. Therefore, we use this conditional to dream.
Are you ready to practice? Use your imagination: you really need it for the Second Conditional!


1. If you won the lottery, what would you buy first?
(If I won the lottery, I would _____________________.)



2. If you won the lottery, what could you buy that you can’t afford to buy now?
(If I won the lottery, I could buy __________________.)



3. If you met the President of the United States, what question would you ask him?



4. If you found a briefcase with $10,000 dollars in it, what would you do?



5. If you got a free plane ticket to anywhere in the world, where would you go?



Note: In the “if” clause, the verb is always in the simple past tense.

INCORRECT: If I meet Michael Jordan, I would ask him how he became so good at basketball.

CORRECT: If I met Michael Jordan, I would ask him how he became so good at basketball.

Next week: The Third Conditional! Stay tuned, and to all of our students, have a great week in beautiful San Diego and San Francisco!