Thursday, March 3, 2011

G2R - more examples of the second conditional

This is an extra post of our lesson on the second conditional. My goal here is to show sample sentences to clarify the subtle differences between using the infinitive and using the past tense or the ing form in a second conditional sentence. Please review parts 1 (Feb 4), 2 (Feb 23), and 3 (Mar 2) of our blogs on the second conditional.

I would like to reiterate that the advanced form of the second conditional (using "were" in the beginning of the "if clause") is the least commonly used of the conditional structures. Nevertheless, it's important to know and be familiar with it especially if you want to use English at the professional level.

Take a look at these sentences and notice the differences (Their meanings are italicized in parentheses):

If we had a dog, we'd be less lonely. (We don't have a dog.)
If we were getting a dog, we'd be less lonely. (We're not getting a dog.)
(advanced form) Were we getting a dog, ...
If we were to get a dog, we'd be less lonely. (We're probably not getting a dog, but let's consider the possibility.)
(advanced form) Were we to get a dog, ...

If he took the train everyday, he'd save money on gas. (He doesn't take the train everyday.)
If he were taking the train right now, he wouldn't be stuck in traffic. (He's not taking the train.)
(advanced form) Were they taking the train right now, ...
If he were to take the train, he would save some money. (He probably won't take the train, but let's consider the possibility of his taking the train.)
(advanced form) Were they to take the train, ...

If they ate meat, ... (They don't eat meat.)
If they were eating meat, ... (They are not eating meat.)
(advanced form) Were they eating meat, ...
If they were to eat meat, ... (They probably won't eat meat, but let's consider this possibility.)
(advanced form) Were they to eat meat, ...

Alright everyone, I know it can be challenging the first time you see a grammar point. The important thing is you've seen it, and that the next time you see it or hear someone use it, you'll recognize it and it will begin to make sense and sound easy. Eventually, you'll be able to use it, yourself.

To practice, finish the sentences in the last group: Were my friends to eat meat, they would ...

Good luck!
Joe Yu

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