This video compares the uses of the first and second conditional. If you haven’t already done so, you may wish to watch our other grammar videos explaining these structures in detail.
Today, we’re comparing the first conditional and the second conditional. We’re asking: What’s the difference?
If you need to review the structure of first conditional and second conditional sentences, check out these earlier videos. Today, we’re concerned with meaning.
We use the first conditional when the speaker believes that the condition really might happen. That is, the speaker believes that the condition is realistic.
Let’s look at an example:
- If I see Paul, I’ll tell him to call you.
The condition here is if I see Paul, and the speaker thinks, “It’s a real possibility. I might see Paul. I think there’s a good chance I’ll see Paul.”
Here’s another example:
- If it rains, I’ll use my umbrella.
Again, the speaker thinks the condition is realistic. It really might rain.
In contrast, the second conditional is used when the speaker believes that the condition probably won’t happen, definitely won’t happen, or is impossible. The speaker believes that the condition is unrealistic.
Let’s look at an example:
- If I met Quentin Tarantino, I’d ask him for an autograph.
Now, here the condition is very unlikely. Quentin Tarantino is a very famous man. I probably won’t meet him.
- If I found a million dollars on the street, I’d hand it in to the police.
Now, think about this condition. Finding a million dollars on the street? It’s not impossible, but it’s extremely unlikely. I’m going to say this definitely won’t happen.
A final example:
- If Superman and Iron Man had a fight, Superman would clearly win.
OK, look at the condition: if Superman and Iron Man had a fight. Well, Superman’s not real! Iron Man’s not real! This is a hypothetical situation, an imaginary situation – it’s impossible!
OK, so the first conditional is for realistic conditions, and the second conditional is for unrealistic conditions. But sometimes the choice is yours as a speaker as to which one you want to use!
For instance, I would say: If I won the lottery, I would buy you a house because I think it’s unrealistic that I’m going to win the lottery. However, my mother is much more optimistic than me, and she often says to me: If I win the lottery, I’ll buy you a house! She thinks it might happen!
So, there we are. That’s the difference between the first conditional and the second conditional. Why not practice making your own sentences, and write them in the comments section below. We look forward to hearing from you.
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