Tips about the untrue present / unlikely future grammar construction

This post is about the grammar construction that is used for the unlikely future and the untrue present. This construction is often known as the “2nd Conditional”.  An example is: If I had a million pounds, I would be able to drink champagne every day. 

 

The distinction between the untrue present and unlikely future is often unclear in the mind of the speaker. The person listening to or reading sentences with this grammar can only know from context and vocabulary whether the meaning is untrue present or unlikely future. The sentences imply hypothetical situations, so the distinction is generally unimportant for the listener or reader.

  • If I had a million pounds, I would be able to drink champagne every day.  ✔︎   (This probably has untrue present meaning.)
  • If I won a million pounds, I would be able to drink champagne every day.  ✔︎  (This probably has unlikely future meaning.)

 

The construction usually contains 2 parts:-

the “if” part ( for example [ if I won a million pounds ] )

the other part (for example [ I would be able to drink champagne every day ] ) which may be referred to as the “main part”.

 

The parts may appear in either order, with or without a separating pause or comma.

  • If I had a million pounds, I would be able to drink champagne every day.  ✔︎
  • If I had a million pounds I would be able to drink champagne every day.  ✔︎
  • I would be able to drink champagne every day, if I had a million pounds. ✔︎
  • I would be able to drink champagne every day if I had a million pounds. ✔︎

 

Sometimes the “if” part is not necessary.

  • If I had a million pounds, I would give money to poor people. I would be able to drink champagne every day.  ✔︎

 

The “if” part uses the “past simple” grammar construction.

  • If I had a million pounds ….  ✔︎
  • If there was an elephant in the room ….  ✔︎
  • If I didn’t have such a lot of work to do ….  ✔︎

 

In the “if” part you may optionally use “I” +”were” and [“he”/”she”/”it”] + “were”; this is preferred in the USA and for formal language.

  • If I were you ….  ✔︎
  • If there were an elephant in the room ….  ✔︎

 

The main part usually contains “would” + the base verb.

  • I would be able to drink champagne every day.  ✔︎
  • I would give money to poor people.  ✔︎

 

In the main part, we can substitute “would” + “be able to” with “could”.

  • I could drink champagne every day.  ✔︎

 

The main part can be a question.

  • If I had a million pounds, would I be able to drink champagne every day?  ✔︎
  • If I had a million pounds, could I drink champagne every day?  ✔︎