Second Conditional Lesson
The second conditional is used to express unreal or imagined situations in the present or future. The major difference between the first and second conditional is that the result in the first conditional is likely to happen, whereas the result in the second conditional is highly unlikely to happen.
(As we move up in number in the four conditional grammar structures, the possibility of the result happening become less and less. In the zero conditional the result always happens but in the third conditional it is impossible for the result to happen).
In a second conditional sentence, the conditional clause uses the simple past form of the verb while the result clause uses ‘would’ (or another modal verb), followed by the infinitive (base) verb form.
If clause (condition) Main clause (result)
If this thing happened that thing would happen.
If + subject + simple past verb subject + would + verb
If I had a million dollars, I would travel around the world.
In a second conditional sentence, the clauses are interchangeable but pay close attention to where the comma goes. Only use a comma if the conditional clause comes first.
I would travel around the world if I had a million dollars.
Another important rule to watch out for in the second conditional is the use of the verb ‘to be’, when used in the conditional clause. In this case the simple past will be ‘were’, no matter what the subject.
If I were a doctor, I would volunteer in Africa.
If she were a rich girl, she’d buy a summer house in Spain.
Exercise 1: correct the errors in the following second conditional sentences. Elicit why they are mistakes, again bringing focus to the rules of the second conditional. CCQ throughout.
If I was you, I will study harder.
I’d have bought a Lamborghini if my salary is much higher.
If I meet her earlier, we are married by now.
If I will practice every day, I would professional by now.
If we winning the match, we would have been in first place now.
Exercise 2: print out and cut up a set of cards for each group and instruct them to match two clauses to make second conditional sentences.
As an extra activity, have each group work together to write the sentences accurately, focusing on the correct punctuation.
For higher level students or groups that finish quickly, have them write the other possible way each sentence could be written.
Exercise 3: Class survey – this part of the lesson focuses on forming questions and giving answers in the second conditional.
Student A: What would you do if you had a million dollars?
Student B: If I had a million dollars, I’d donate half to charity and buy a new house.
Step 1: Elicit from students how to form the question correctly, making clear that we still use the simple past in the conditional clause and ‘would’ plus the infinitive in the result clause.
Step 2: Give each student a survey worksheet and have them write the questions in full using the information given. (Check for accuracy)
Step 3: Have students walk around the class asking their classmates the questions. If there are enough students, encourage them to only ask one question per classmate.
Step 4: When the survey is finished, elicit how to report the answer using the third person. If students are higher level, encourage them to use reported speech phrases, such as, “Soraya said, if she got a big promotion, she’d treat her friends and family to dinner”.