The Conditionals: Regular (First and Second)

If you have read the previous story, you will find yourselves in a position to further improve your knowledge on conditionals with this one. This time around, we are raising the bar by one notch and introducing the Second Conditional. The focus will be on how to differentiate between the first and the second conditional, i.e. in which situations each of them should be used so that the right message is conveyed.

Before we begin, we just need to recap the previous story in two short points:

  • The Zero Conditional — We use it to talk about repetitive actions that regularly happen (they happened in the past, they are still happening, and they will continue to happen in the future).
  • The First Conditional — We use it to talk about actions that will happen in the future (the event (or more of them) hasn’t happened yet, and is not happening now, but will happen in the future under the conditions that we set).

Taking into consideration that we already have two patterns that we can use when we want to talk about the present or the future, the second conditional introduces a chance for us to express ourselves differently.

The Second Conditional is best understood when compared to the First one, mostly because they talk about events happening in the same times (the future or near future/present). We use the First Conditional to talk about realistic events that will happen. For example:

  • When I come home, I will eat lunch — which means that it is only a matter of time when I will eat lunch and that I am sure that this action will happen.
  • If I practice the conditionals, I will understand them better. — meaning that I believe that I will understand them with more practice and that there aren’t any impossible obstacles that I cannot overcome.

However, if we DOUBT THE FUTURE or if we think that an event WILL NOT HAPPEN, but we are still discussing it and thinking that THERE IS A CHANCE for it to happen, in that case, we need to use the Second Conditional. Here are some examples:

  • If Veloja practices the conditionals, he will understand them better. — If we create a sentence like this one, we want to express that we truly believe that it is easy for our friend Veloja to learn the conditionals and that he will manage to master this skill. (the 1st Conditional)
  • If Veloja practiced the conditionals more, he would understand them better. — However, if we create a sentence like this one, we want to express that we don’t believe in our friend Veloja (because he is not practicing the conditionals enough) and that we think that it will be very hard for him to tame the conditional beast. (the 2nd Conditional)

To better understand the Second Conditional, we can always compare it with the expression “if only,” which sounds as if we are already regretting the future that will not or cannot be completed.

A bit strange part here is that we actually use past tenses to talk about the present or the future, as the Second Conditional can be used to talk about the present:

  • If I had a heart, I could love you; If I had a voice, I would sing. — But Ragnar doesn’t have a heart, so he can’t love Lagertha. Just as Srko doesn’t have a nice voice to sing — which does not stop him, unfortunately. But we love him still!
  • If I were a boy, I think I could understand How it feels to love a girl; I swear I’d be a better man, I’d listen to her… — Since Beyonce is a girl, she needs to use the Second Conditional to teach men how to properly treat their ladies. Valid point, Queen B!
  • Daca and Šile would sing much more often if we bought a super awesome microphone. — Well, if Jeka did something about this in the near future, we would all participate and sing along.

So, the structure to make the Second Conditional goes as follows:

If + past simple (or past forms of modal verbs, such as could, might, had to, needed to + infinitive) in one part of the sentence, and would/could/had to/needed to/etc. + infinitive in the other part.

As this is a topic that is best covered if we do exercises related to it, here are several links that can help you pave the path toward the ultimate knowledge on conditionals:

Practice makes perfect, especially with patterns like these; so after you have completed these basic exercises, you will certainly feel much more at peace with the conditionals as it will become clear that they are just a simple structure. All you need to do is see the pattern and remember it through practice and personal examples.

Next week, we are covering the last of the Regular Conditionals — the Third Conditional — before moving on to some more complex variants.

Till then,
Take care!

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