First or Second Conditional? English Grammar Practice

Lesson Overview

Lesson Summary 

Wondering when to use first and second conditional in English? Learn with me and hang around for the Conditionals Quiz at the end!

The 1st Conditional:
We use it to talk about things that are POSSIBLE in the future and have a LIKELY chance of happening!
IF + present simple, WILL + bare infinitive verb
EG: If I miss the bus, I will take a taxi.

The 2nd Conditional:
Use it to talk about IMPOSSIBLE present situations and UNLIKELY future situations
IF + past simple, WOULD + bare infinitive verb
EG: If I missed the bus, I would take a taxi.

Stick about for the QUIZ at the end of the lesson to practice what you learn!


Video Transcript
Section 1
Hey there I’m Emma from mmmEnglish! Welcome to another English grammar lesson here at mmmEnglish. We’re going to continue exploring conditionals which are one of the most interesting and exciting grammar structures in English, I think so.

This video today is going to help you to expand your understanding of the first and the second conditionals in English. I think you already know the basics, especially if you’re a subscriber because you would have seen all of my lessons about conditionals, all of the links are in the description below.

But today we’re going to go a little deeper on the first and the second conditional. I’m going to give you lots of examples to help you understand when to use the first and when to use the second.

Plus I’ll also be talking about how to use conditionals without ‘if’ which is pretty shocking, I know because ‘if’ is the star of conditional sentences, you know. But actually, you can use other words in place of ‘if’ as well so I’m going to go through all of that right here during this lesson.

Conditionals check!

Okay let’s do a quick check together before we get started.

You know there are five different types of conditional sentences, you know that the basic form of all of these sentences is the same, right? We have an ‘if’ clause and a main clause.

And the things that are different about these five types of conditional sentences relate to time and also to verb tense.

Now if you don’t know any of these things don’t worry about it but I do recommend that you check out this lesson up here. It’s an overview of conditional sentences, it might help to jog your memory and get you thinking correctly about conditional sentences before we get started here.

So I want you to tell me. What’s the difference between the first conditional and the second conditional?

FIRST conditional

So the best way to think about it is the first conditional is real.

We use it to talk about things that are possible in the future and there’s a likely chance of it happening.

if + present simple, will + verb

So to make the first conditional, it’s simple. We use the present simple verb in our ‘if’ clause and we use the future tense ‘will’ in our main clause so we use ‘will’ along with a bare infinitive verb.

  • If I miss the bus, I will take a taxi.
  • If they lose the game, they won’t go to the finals.
  • If you get too close to the flames, you‘ll get burned.

So notice that with all of these examples, these are real. They are possible and they’re likely to happen in the future.

SECOND conditional

Now when we move to the second conditional, we actually have to leave the real world, the actual world behind us. Because although there is a possibility of the result happening, when we use the second conditional, it tells us that the action is quite unlikely so it’s often called the unreal tense.

So we use the second conditional to talk about imaginary situations in the present so these are unreal situations. We also use it to talk about unlikely future outcomes as well.

if + past simple, would + verb

So it looks like ‘if’ and the past simple in our ‘if’ clause and then ‘would’ with the bare infinitive verb following in our main clause.

  • If I missed the bus, I would take a taxi.
  • If they lost the game, they wouldn’t go to the finals.
  • If you got too close to the flames, you‘d get burned.

Wait a second. These examples look pretty similar to the first conditional examples right? So with just a couple of little edits, we have subtly changed these results to seem less likely.

Suddenly we’ve got a set of hypothetical or imaginary situations and their results but those results are unlikely to actually happen right? Such is the second conditional.

Many ideas can be correctly expressed in English using both the first and the second conditional sentence structure but each type of sentence changes the meaning noticeably so you really need to be careful about which type of sentence structure you’re using. You’ve got to carefully choose.

1st VS 2nd conditional

So let’s look at a couple of examples to help you out. So we’ve got

  • If I miss the bus, I will take a taxi.
  • If I missed the bus, I would take a taxi.

Now in the first example, this is real and possible. It’s based on an actual situation. Just imagine that you are walking down the street quite quickly towards the bus stop because it’s actually the exact time that the bus is supposed to arrive and there is a chance it’s pulling up at the bus stop right now.

You’re hoping that it’s not because you’re going to be late otherwise right? You still want to make it to work on time.

But in your head, as you’re walking you’re coming up with a backup plan, right, a plan B. Here’s what you’re going to do.

  • If I miss the bus, I will take a taxi.

So this situation is based on a real-life scenario right. Something that is likely to happen.

There’s a good chance that that bus has already come to the bus stop and you’re not there.

But the second example in the second conditional, totally imaginary. Maybe I’ve got no plans at all to take the bus, maybe I don’t even take the bus to work. Or perhaps I’m extremely punctual. I’m almost never late to the bus.

But for whatever reason, this thing, the outcome, is very unlikely to happen and we know that because we’re using the second conditional.

So you can see how powerful this decision is right? The grammar structure that you choose influences the meaning of your sentence.

Let’s do a few more examples together just to make sure you’ve got it.

  • If I run out of butter, I‘ll just use oil.

So again imagine, imagine that you’re baking and there isn’t much butter left.

You can’t be bothered going to the shops so I’ve got a plan. If I run out of butter, I know what I’m going to do and this is a likely event right.

  • If I ran out of butter, I’d just use oil.

Now this is a hypothetical situation. I’m not talking about a specific baking event that’s happening now. I’m just talking about what I would hypothetically do if this ever happened to me while I was baking. I could be giving advice to someone who’s asking.

  • If I ran out of butter, I’d just use oil.

You won’t notice the difference.

  • If she finds a dog on the street, she’ll adopt it.

She loves dogs, right? She has plans to adopt a dog. In fact, she’s looking for a dog and there are lots of street dogs in her area. So it’s quite likely that if she finds a dog on the street that doesn’t have a home, it’s quite likely that she’ll adopt it.

  • If she found a dog on the street, she’d adopt it.

So again, she loves dogs. Perhaps there’s actually not many street dogs in her area which makes the outcome quite unlikely right?

  • If she were taller, she would play basketball.

Okay so this is the second conditional right and she’s imagining what she would do if she had been born taller but she wasn’t right? She can’t change her height.

So this situation has to be unreal. So for that reason, be careful because we can’t write a version of this in the first conditional.

There isn’t a likely chance or a likely outcome where this would happen right? She can’t change the way that she is, however, we can make a couple of changes to make it possible.

We can say you know if we’re talking about a child who is still growing then it’s possible right but we might have to change the verb and say:

  • If she grows taller, she will play basketball.

It’s really important to keep in mind that many ideas can be expressed in the first or the second conditional depending on whether they’re real or imaginary. But not all ideas can be expressed in both tenses right so be careful about that. Real versus imaginary.

Hopefully, you’re starting to feel pretty good about the difference between the first and the second conditional right? But I’ve got one extra thing that I want you to keep in mind. So take a look at this sentence here.

  • Unless it rains soon, the lake will dry up.

Is it a conditional sentence? It has two clauses. It has a present tense verb in the first clause. It has ‘will’ and the base verb in the main clause but it doesn’t have the word ‘if’.

It actually doesn’t matter. This sentence is still a conditional sentence.

A first conditional sentence and there are a couple of very specific words that you can use to replace ‘if’ in the first and also the second conditional sentence structure. It’s still a conditional sentence but the word that you choose, of course, has the ability to change the meaning of your sentence slightly.

  • Unless it rains soon, the lake will dry up.

Or

  • If it rains soon, the lake won’t dry up.

Both of these sentences are okay. They’re great but of course, the change affects the meaning of our sentence slightly. So we need to be aware of that.

1st and 2nd conditionals WITHOUT ‘if’

So you can definitely replace ‘if’ with the word ‘unless’ but the meaning is slightly different. It means if not or except if.

Unless

And you can use ‘unless’ in the first and the second conditional sentence structure but it can’t be used to talk about past situations that can’t be changed right so you can’t use ‘unless’ in the third conditional sentence structure for example.

Check out some examples.

  • Unless she apologises, I will not forgive her.
  • Unless it gets below zero degrees the water won’t freeze.
  • Unless they fired me, I wouldn’t leave the company.

As long as

Besides ‘unless’ and ‘if’ we can also use ‘as long as’ which is really, really useful if you want to set a limit or a condition on the expression.

So this is like saying if and only if the condition happens so if the condition doesn’t happen then the result is not possible or it’s not allowed.

‘As long as’ is usually used with the first conditional because it’s used when the result is expected.

  • As long as I get time off work, I’ll come for a visit.
  • As long as it’s not too crowded, we’ll stay for dinner.
  • As long as he finishes his homework, he’ll join you at the skate park.

Supposing (that)

Great work! We’re almost done, we’ve got one more option to replace ‘if’ with and that is using ‘supposing’ or ‘supposing that’. So using ‘supposing that’ helps the listener to imagine a situation so it’s really similar to using ‘if’ but just with a bit of extra command to really tell the listener that you want them to imagine, turn on their imagination.

Now it can be used in either the first or the second conditional but it’s much more comfortable in the second conditional for sure because you’re imagining right.

  • Supposing I can change my flight, I’ll come a few days earlier.
  • Supposing you got a huge Christmas bonus, would you go on a holiday?

QUIZ

So conditionals can be quite cool really, you can tweak and you can change them to help add extra layers of meaning in your sentence and the best way to become familiar with conditional sentences is to start writing them and to start experimenting with them and right now we’re going to jump into a really quick quiz to help you put what you learned here today into action.

So I’m going to give you a few different situations and you’re going to decide which conditional sentence is the best one for you to use. So I want you to write your answers down in the comments below so that I can come down and I can check them for you.

And if you’re feeling up to it, try and experiment a little with ‘if’. Perhaps you can use one of the other words or expressions that we practised. As long as, unless.

Right so here’s a situation.

– It’s my friend’s birthday next week
– I want to get her a present
– I always forget things like birthdays
– She always gets quite upset when I forget things

So in the quiz, I’d ask you to pause the video just for a second to think about the situation but let’s just do this one together. So this situation is pretty real, right?

There’s a birthday plan next week. It’s coming up soon. I also know that there’s a pretty high chance I’ll forget to buy a present because it’s a really bad habit of mine. You can’t really say that this situation is hypothetical, can you? There’s a high probability that it will happen.

So I think we need to use the first conditional so a good sentence would be

  • If I forget to buy my friend a birthday present, she will be upset.

See that wasn’t so hard, was it? Now it’s your turn.

Situation 1

  • You’re dreaming about buying a new car.
  • The car you want is expensive.
  • A promotion at work would help you to be able to afford it.
  • Nobody at work has talked about the possibility of a promotion. You’re just dreaming it.

So pause the video and write your sentence.

Situation two.

  • You’re deciding what to cook for dinner
  • Someone suggests making a spicy dish
  • You know that your child hates spicy food
  • There’s no possibility that your child is gonna eat something spicy

Again, pause the video, write your sentence.

Situation 3

  • A friend asked you to take care of their dog while they’re on holidays
  • You would feel horrible if the dog ran away
  • You know that it probably won’t happen
  • But you ask your friend to imagine that possibility anyway

Situation 4

  • You love coffee so much
  • You imagine what would happen if you ran out of coffee
  • Luckily you know that would never actually happen

Awesome work gang! I’m so proud of you for sticking with me all the way through to the end and for putting everything that you learned into practice right. It’s the best way to make it stick.

And if this lesson was really useful for you, then share it with one of your friends who also needs to improve their English grammar. I’m here to help right, I’ve got new lessons here every week.

Make sure you subscribe, turn on notifications so that you know when there’s a new English lesson here waiting for you and if you want to request a new English lesson from me, you are more than welcome to. Ask me down in the comments below and then maybe think about coming and joining me here in this lesson. I’ll see you in there!

Links mentioned in the video

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