When using conditionals, it is sometimes difficult to know when to use the First Conditional and when to use the Second Conditional.
This article looks at how to choose between the two types, and which is best to use.
First or Second?
Generally speaking, if you want to talk about something which is likely to happen, use the First Conditional; if the idea is unlikely (but still possible), then use the Second Conditional.
- First > likely
- Second > unlikely but possible
In this first example, there it is almost certain that something will happen:
My soccer team is losing 0 – 3; there is 10 minutes left in the game. If your team wins, I will buy you a beer.
However, in this next example, we cannot be so certain; it’s possible but unlikely:
My soccer team is losing 0 – 3; there is 10 minutes left in the game. If my team won, I would buy you 10 beers!
Obviously sometimes we can use either of these types in the same situation. This depends on how we feel about it:
If I work too much, I will hurt myself.
If I worked too much, I would hurt myself.
The first example suggests that I think I work too much and I ought to stop; the second example suggests I don’t want to work too hard and this is why not.
So using the first or second conditional can often depend on the point of view of the speaker:
a pessimist says if I won…
an optimist says if I win…
a pessimist says if my house is on fire…
an optimist says if my house were on fire…
Conditionals in English Grammar – an overview of conditional sentences in English
Second Conditionals in English Grammar – a look at the second conditional in more detail