Second Conditional – Fantasy
The Second Conditional deals with if-clauses that are unreal. We use it for hypothetical situations, unlikely situations or impossible situations.
Hypothetical: “What would I do, if I lived until I was 130 years old?”
Unlikely: “If I won the lottery, I would buy a car.”
Impossible: “If I were an animal, I would be a tiger.”
These sentences are not facts like zero conditional (I have never had this exact experience) and they are not predictions like first conditional (I don’t think these things are likely to happen).
The Second conditional is just fantasy. The “if” part is always something that is not true right now.
The Second conditional looks like it is in past tense, but it actually isn’t. It is in the “subjunctive mood”. It’s a little complicated, but just know that the Subjunctive isn’t talking about past, present or future – it is just a fantasy situation with no relation to time. It looks almost exactly like past tense, except that the be-verb is always “were” (never “was”).
“If I win the lottery I buy a car” = fact = this person has won the lottery many times, and every time they did they bought a car. This sounds strange.
“If I win the lottery I will buy a car” = prediction = this person has probably bought a lottery ticket and thinks they will win in the future.
“If I won the lottery, I would buy a car.” = fantasy = This person hasn’t won the lottery, they are just having a fantasy thought.