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If I had a million euros...

If I had a million euros, I would/wouldn't...

Go ahead, finish the sentence, you can dream!


...I would take a year off to travel the world!

...I would buy a house on the ski slopes!

...I wouldn't have to work so much!


These sentences are examples of the 2nd conditional tense. In English we use this conditional to talk about improbable, hypothetical situations. Not impossible, just improbable. It's improbable that I will find a million euros, but since the future is one big mystery, who knows! Of course, this conditional can be used to talk about every day situations, just keep in mind that when it's used for an every day situation, the speaker thinks that the action is unlikely to happen in the future. Keep reading for the grammar structure and examples.

 

The second conditional - the dreamer's conditional

​Grammar structure

If + past simple + would/wouldn't + infinitive


If I could learn any language, I would learn Japanese.

(But I don't think it's possible for me to learn it, perhaps because it's very difficult.)


I would come and visit you if I didn't have to work.

(But I do have to work, so I can't come visit you.)

Purpose

I call this the "dreamer's conditional" because we often use this construction to talk about things that we wish were true, but aren't (and probably will never be). Some situations are often considered "impossible" in the present, but maybe they won't always be impossible. Let's see an example of this:


If she had a job, she would have money to pay the rent.

(But she doesn't have a job so she can't pay the rent.)


It is currently impossible for her to pay the rent, but she will hopefully find a job in the future, and then her situation will change.

​Other situations are much more unlikely to occur in the future without some big and perhaps seemingly unattainable change in our lives. Here's an example:


If I were a billionaire, I would never have to work.

(But I'm not a millionaire, and probably never will be, so I have to work.)


Now I don't have a crystal ball, but I don't expect to become a billionaire anytime soon (and I'm not even sure I would want to be, honestly!), so I use the second conditional to say what I would hypothetically do in a very improbable situation.

And you? What would you change about your life if you could?

 

Glossary

  • a year off: to take a year off means to not work for one year, by personal choice

  • ski slopes: the best place ever, sorry, where you go skiing and snowboarding

  • unattainable: synonym for unreachable, unachievable


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